Government will challenge ruling on declaration of ‘true faith’: Caretaker Law Minister

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News Analysis |

Pakistan has always been in a dilemma when addressing the issue of religion in politics, more precisely in the constitution of Pakistan. One cannot deny that religion is a powerful force shaping the landscape of a political scenario. In Pakistan, the role of the state in one’s religious life become prominent when the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued a judgement and said that all citizens be easily identifiable by their faith and that applicants for public offices declare their beliefs before being considered eligible.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who penned the order, referred to Article 5 of the Constitution, saying it demands that citizens remain “faithful” to the state and “abide by the rules of law and Constitution.” However, he then interpreted Article 5 as the Constitution making it “mandatory” for every citizen, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, to declare their “true faith”, failing which they could be guilty of “betraying the State” and “exploiting the Constitution”.

The decision of the IHC also needs to be reevaluated while keeping into mind the global context and modern democracies of the world. Pakistan is destined to become a modern, genuine democracy, but there are challenges ahead to be neutralized amicably.

The judgement has been criticized many by intellectuals, media houses and independent think-tanks who consider religion to be a personal matter. The insistence of the IHC to disclose one’s faith deemed inappropriate to majority of democratic-minded citizens of Pakistan.

The caretaker Minister for Information and Law, Syed Ali Zafar, has said that making declaration of faith compulsory before joining the judiciary and civilian and military services is discriminatory and will be challenged. “The government cannot discriminate in service laws in matters of employment. I believe that our judges are… learned and very aware of human rights.

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They know their obligations to protect these rights but this judgement is contrary to that and so must be challenged,” said Mr. Zafar while speaking as the chief guest at a consultation session on minority rights, freedom of religion or belief, titled “Faith for Rights”, on Tuesday. The event was organized by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA) in collaboration with the European Union (EU).

The caretaker minister was clear about what he was saying and referring to. He believed it was enough to be a Pakistani to hold an office in the country, declaration of faith seemed inappropriate and discriminatory to the minister. “Court judgement or no court judgement, I disagree. I am also in charge of law [ministry] and we will challenge this judgement. It is nobody’s business to know what somebody’s belief is. Why should somebody be so intrusive? We do not need to disclose that. It is enough if you are a citizen of this country,” said Mr Zafar.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who penned the order, referred to Article 5 of the Constitution, saying it demands that citizens remain “faithful” to the state and “abide by the rules of law and Constitution.

In Pakistan, these issues have become more complex and visible since the rise of a right-wing party TehreekeLabbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA). This is a conservative religious party led by a cleric who got prominence and popularity for his pro-Mumtazi Qadari, the murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, after his death.

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The rise of such conservative and hardcore parties is alarming and needs careful attention. It is easy to gain votes by mongering hate and sectarianism. Moreover, there has been a growing interest in minority groups in Pakistan about their political rights and entitlements. The decision of the IHC also needs to be reevaluated while keeping into mind the global context and modern democracies of the world. Pakistan is destined to become a modern, genuine democracy, but there are challenges ahead to be neutralized amicably.

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