Amendment 18 hailed as the start of democracy in Pakistan - is it the final nail in the coffin for Minorities?!
On behalf of Pakistani Christians and other minorities who have been rocked by the Pakistani Government's move to relegate minority concerns to provincial government.
Constitutional Amendment 18 attained Presidential assent on the 19th April 2010 and has been reported as the first time a Pakistani President has willingly agreed to commit their-self to a loss of power. The Amendment removes sweeping powers formerly held by the President that included ability to dissolve Parliament unilaterally.
There were 95 amendments which would be too much to transpose into this short article, so I will concentrate on those that affect minorities in Pakistan. I am no legal expert and I unequivocally state these are my own subjective opinions.
The main concern for our community is the revelation that the Minority Ministry will no longer be of Federal importance and will now be incorporated into Provincial portfolios. They only reference alluding to this devalued status for Minority affairs elucidated through my research, was the amendment to article 12 Pakistan's Constitution:
Amendment of Article 38 of the Constitution:
In the Constitution, in Article 38,-
Devolution has some benefit in that it allows application of local provincial knowledge to Minority issues ensuring that a best fit solution is innovatively created for local concerns. However, most Provincial cabinets already have a local Minority Minister, such as Kamran Michael from the Punjab.
So what real gain is their local minorities? In my opinion none!
I will clarify my particular stance on the issue. Firstly with existing local Minority Ministers in place, I cannot imagine that these officers would be negated from Federal investigations into local Minority issues "on their patch".
Moreover, any local legislature ruling would be declared null and void if it contradicted Federal Law:
You may wonder how this limits or reduces the quality of life of Pakistani Minorities. Here is an example I thought up...
Just imagine the Punjab Government passed a ruling to introduce a broad based religious education in its schools, this could be overturned by the Federal Ministry on the grounds that it conflicted with the Ministry of Educations ruling that Islamiat (Islamic studies) is taught as a mandatory subject within the holistic curriculum. Although Islamiat would still be included in the more encompassing subject it would be rejected outright. You may say well this would be the overall position by the Government irrespective of a Federal Minister of Minorities. Such a premise may well be true, however we would still have a voice that could challenge for our position and a figure such as former Minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti - strong enough to defend his position - may well have been able to eke out a concession such as Christian schools being able to teach the more universal subject matter. He got us the 5% quota for Minorities in Government positions after all...
Without that Federal voice I am afraid our forgotten Minorities are to become a lost Minority!
I like to leave things on a good note and with great joy I notice that the Presidential power to veto any sentence passed on a citizen of Pakistan has not been altered within this amendment. As such I call on Christians to continue to call on the President of Pakistan to enact this power and to release Asia Bibi:
45. President's power to grant pardon, etc.
The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.