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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

BPCA leads multi-faith delegation with High Commissioner of Pakistan Wajid Shamsul Hasan

From left to right Alex Chowdhry (Chairman BPCA), Wilson Chowdhry (Vice Chairman 2nd BPCA), Rev Kevin Logan (Parliamentary Candidate Chrsitian Alliance - Accrington), Sukhwant Dhaliwal (Women Against Fundamentalism) Atiq Chowdhry (Vice Chairman 1st BPCA)
Wilson up to his old tricks!

Pastor Kevin Logan with His Excellency Wajid Shamsul Hasan (High Commissioner Pakistan)

Alex Chowdhry, Kevin Logan, His Excellency Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Samia Shabhad (Greenwich Multi-Faith Forum), Atiq Chowdhry, Wilson Chowdhry, Rev Jesse Van der Walk (Greenwich Multi-Faith Forum)

Ranbir Singh (Hindu Human Rights Group), Alex Chowdhry, Kevin Logan, High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Samia Shabad, Mr. M. Nafees Zakaria (political Advisor to HC), Atiq Chowdhry, Rev Jessie Van Der Walk and of course
Wilson Chowdhry

BPCA meeting with Pakistani High Commissioner

Date: Friday 8th January 2010
Time: 4.30pm to 6.30pm
Venue: Pakistani Embassy, 35-36 Lowndes Square, London SW1X 9JN

Attendance: Pakistani High Commissioner (Mr. Wajid Shamsul Hasan) and his political advisor (Mr. M. Nafees Zakaria); Alex Chowdhry Chairman BPCA; Atiq Chowdhry 1st Vice Chairman BPCA; Samia Shabhad and Rev Jessie from Greenwich multi-faith forum; Sukhwant from Women Against Fundamentalism; Rev Kevin Logan Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Christian People's Alliance in Accrington; Pastor Jimmy Robinson from Potters House Christian Fellowship; Ranbir Singh from Hindu Human Rights Group and Wilson Chowdhry Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Green Party.


1. Introductions
2. The Blasphemy Law
3. Parity of educational and employment rights and opportunities in Pakistan
4. Police Reform
5. Reform of Ulema Council
6. Joint electorate
7. Quota system
8. Freedom of religion particularly changing one's religion both here and in Pakistan
9. More accountability and fairness within Asylum Seeker provision in the UK - including better monitoring of deportees

1. Introductions - all introduced themselves

During the round of introductions the High Commission officials expressed their disappointment that BPCA went ahead with a public protest when they had already been offered a meeting with the High Commission to raise these issues. BPCA members challenged this stating that the High Commission offered a meeting ahead of the planned demonstration and then cancelled it. This was clearly a tactic for getting them to call off the demonstration and part of the intention of this meeting was felt to be an attempt at preventing future demonstrations. The high Commissioner also implied that some faiths had been excluded form the delegation. Wilson at this point submitted letters of support from Salim Mulla Leader of the Council of Lancashire Mosques and a letter from Dr Paul Edlin from the Board of Deputies for British Jews – both groups apologised for not being able to make it. They have confirmed an ongoing interest to attend future meetings. Wilson apologised for not being able to get representatives from the smaller faith groups.

2. The Blasphemy Law -
Points made:
Only mosques are currently being protected and BPCA want this extended to cover all other religious institutions. Their impression is that most of the legislation is not specifically about Islam but rather that in its implementation it is only applied to protect Muslims, Muslim institutions and texts.

Particular problem with reference to Prophet Muhammad under the legislation and BPCA suggested that this needs to be extended to cover all religious figures/religious beliefs
The current legislation allows for spreading of rumours to erupt into violence, persecution, arrests and incarceration

Atiq Chowdhry tied this discussion to a demand for greater regulation of the mosque public address systems and highlighted this through an example of the mosque behind his family's house in Faisalabad, which regularly declares that Christians are Khaffirs and encourages people to persecute or kill them.

Welcomed PPP's espoused commitment to tackling the impact of blasphemy law and the appointment of a minority religions officer.
WAF intervened to argue that they are more interested in seeing the abolition of the blasphemy law than its extension in any way, that one can look at the offences against religion chapter of the constitution in two parts: one that is broadly about stemming incitement to hatred against other faiths (a kind of hate crimes legislation) that can be used to deal with attacks on property and another section that is specifically about what is said about Prophet Muhammad. WAF wants to see this latter section abolished and not extended because it is this sort of thing that sanctions rumours and police actions and privileges one religion or religion per se over others.

Wilson highlighted that the BPCA has an ongoing commitment towards the abolishment of the Blasphemy Law, however, due to the repeated statements by the Pakistani Government opposing such a repeal a primary step- compromise was being tabled. The intent being to remove first and second class citizenship and to reduce the level of abuse of the law. his would be espoused by opportunity for reciprocal application of the law to protect people of all faiths.
Wilson made an additional point here on Ahmaddis being criminalised by the current legislation and WAF spoke in support of this point and the need to repeal section 298B+C.
WAF made an additional point on the way in which these legal provisions are being used to specifically oppress women as well as the particular impact of communal violence on women and girls

WAF also recognised that whilst PPP may have offered support for repealing the blasphemy legislation and may have encountered resistance they could still, in the first instance, make procedural arrangements to ensure that there is a judicial inquiry into each claim such that claims can not be lodged until their basis / validity is investigated and this would prevent the great number of false claims. Also pointed out that this and other measures such as repercussions for the lodging of false claims and greater state intervention was attempted under Benazir Bhutto's government and it actually lead to a fall in the number of blasphemy cases. Also suggested pushing for state intervention to stop cases going forward until they can get this section of the law repealed.

The response of the Pakistani High Commissioner and his political assistant -
They are very aware of the impact on religious minorities and indeed there have been moves especially by the PPP to abolish the blasphemy law to no avail. The Pakistani High Commissioner reiterated 'we are there with you on this, we already know this' However, the High Commissioner and particularly his advisor were at times quite defensive, particularly stating that the delegation can highlight issues but should not be getting involved in the business of how the Pakistani state should respond to these matters. Moreover, he emphasised that the current government is a coalition government and that the other partners and not just the PPP need to be pressurised. They were of the view that if we are going to channel our energies into anything then it should be to meet with Nawaz Sharif on his next visit and pressurise him to follow the PPP's lead on this rather than be lobbying the PPP. Also questioned our evidence and wanted us to substantiate the claims we were making. We were able to refer to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty reports as well as media coverage of these issues.

In particular, they suggested that the violence that had so far taken place was not about religion but was rather a social and economic issue about lack of education and also made an attempt to claim that the blasphemy law was not Islamic in nature and this is evidenced by the specific impact upon Muslims. In particular they noted that the main issue in Pakistan at the moment is where many Muslims are killing many other Muslims and that this was not about religious infighting but rather about lack of education.

The entire group believed that there was validity in the comments made regarding the issue of education and cultural norms, which by their very nature involved prejudices and preconceptions – they did not believe this was an excuse for the retention of the existing legal bias. They agreed that through better education misconceptions, stereotypes and unfounded enmity would gradually erode, however this should be in tandem with clear circumscribed equality legislation, Legal safeguards and legal accountability. The delegation was unanimous in their belief that existing legislation was favourable towards those of an Islamic predilection. Moreover Wilson corrected the High Commissioner on his statement that the Blasphemy Law was universally applicable to all faiths, by reminding him that it was only the protections to Islam that held a multilateral status. Other faith prophets, teachings, practices and religious literature were not afforded any form of protection.

Not at all receptive to the question of Ahmaddis and would not enter into discussion on this issue.
They appeared to need convincing to take the delegation seriously and a fair amount of time was spent responding to the Commission's point that we should be equally lobbying other countries especially India because of the violence to religious minorities there and that we should not be telling people in Pakistan how to conduct their affairs because there are already a number of Pakistani civil society groups being consulted by the state. The BPCA argued that wider consultation with external bodies allows for more comprehensive improvement programmes.

The delegation was also challenged on the question of evidence for its claims - why did we think that religious minorities were being persecuted in Pakistan, why did we think that people were incarcerated under false claims/allegations, what evidence did we have to make these suggestions? Moreover, they pointed out that the newly established Constitutional Review Committee had already taken submissions on the question of Blasphemy legislation and that the newly appointed “Minority Affairs Minister” (MAM) Shabhaz Bhatti is a member of the Committee. When the High Commissioner referred to this MAM as Shabhaz Chowdhry Wilson corrected the surname - an error by the High commissioner that highlighted the low regard for minority representatives.

They claimed that a review of the blasphemy law was part of the Constitutional Review Committee's remit and was being looked at particularly this issue of having a judicial inquiry into allegations. They also made some reference to submissions to the committee from Pakistani civil society groups and a passing reference to addressing gender through a review of the Family Law Act.

However they did agree to take a written submission specifically on the Blasphemy Law and after much convincing of the links amongst British Pakistanis with Pakistan, they began to hear the delegation's concerns, they noted these and agreed to feed them back to the Pakistani government and also agreed to meet again in June 2010 to feedback on developments.

They were particularly receptive to points on gender.

They remained unconvinced by concerns raised by Rev Kevin Logan, Pastor Jimmy Robinson and Rev Jesse van der Valk that atrocities in Pakistan were fuelling anti Muslim sentiment in Britain, perpetuating stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant, bolstering BNP support in the UK and creating untoward pressure groups such as “Stop the Islamisation of Europe” - therefore impacting upon the quality of life and perception of British Pakistanis.

The political advisor requested detailed information on blasphemy cases and specifically their names but of course this was challenged and the majority of the delegation stated that names of individual cases would not be passed on.

Action: make a submission on blasphemy law focusing in bringing together existing evidence of its impact.

3. Parity of educational and employment rights and opportunities in Pakistan
Points made:

Christian schools are particularly affected by the de-nationalisation of the education system in Pakistan. Less Christians now attend, much due to inability to afford the national subsidised costs of training. Previously, impoverished Christian families were served by significantly discounted school fees.

Some Christian families are deterred from sending children to the newly nationalised educational establishments. This is a consequence of the nationally adopted Islamic Studies that is deemed to be of a proselytising nature - especially as all schools even formerly Christian schools are now predominantly attended by Muslim children.

Christian organisations in Pakistan have a special place in the history of social provision in Pakistan. Christian Schools from the outset have been of the highest standard and this status is still retained in the modern day.

Wilson noted that whilst 50% of Pakistani's are illiterate, only 7% of Christians are at the same level of education as the average Pakistani.

Wilson ended his point with a call for a basic religious studies course that would enhance community cohesion by teaching similarities between faiths, rather than just differences. Moreover, Wilson suggested that for those that would like to take on graduate or post-graduate faith based training, options for specialisation in other faiths should be provided. The only theological degrees attainable in Pakistan are Islamic based.

Rev Kevin Logan suggested that some type of community bonding course should be introduced to schools Wilson termed it “relationship training”. This could be a primary step in delivering the cultural reforms to the next generation, referred to earlier.

The Pakistani High Commission response:

Initial response was that Christian schools do exist in Pakistan and there is nothing preventing their existence and they would like more concrete evidence on this issue. Indeed given that education was a central concern for the High Commission officials - they seemed to be pointing to many of these issues depending upon better education - there was space to raise this issue through a more detailed written submission.

Pointed out that they were recruiting retired teachers from the UK to up-skill teachers in Pakistan. The BPCA expressed an interest in gaining more information about this. Atiq Chowdhry (a teacher himself) highlighted that retired teachers used archaic practices. Teaching strategies and practices reform frequently in the UK. He suggested, a more sensible way forward, would be to recruit from the new wave of existing teaching professionals using modern didactic process.

High Commissioner referred to the establishment of some kind of interfaith body that is advising on religious education, the curriculum and other interfaith matters. One body has already been initiated in Pakistan and one body is about to start in the UK. The BPCA indicated an interest in being involved.

Action - the High Commission is willing to accept a written submission on this issue particularly one that can point to evidence of the negative impact of de-nationalisation of education upon Christian minorities.

4. Police and Statutory Reform
Points made:

· This followed on from the general points above about the need for greater transparency and accountability
· BPCA stated that people are experiencing problems lodging an FIR and that some people are better placed to get their FIR lodged than others. In Particular the Minorities Affair Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, while other minority MNA’s and other officials, seem to be lacking any empowerment.

Pakistani High Commission were not in agreement on this issue where the Pakistani High Commissioner appeared to be prepared to acknowledge problems with policing and particularly levels of corruption, his political advisor was more defensive. The Advisor informed us that any person could legally request an FIR from the Police. Wilson argued that in practice such statutes held no sway within a corrupted Police Authority, that could be bribed and often held their own prejudices. Wilson suggested increased positive discrimination within police recruitment - in particular, addressing local diversities. Alex Chowdhry highlighted the fact that the Police stood back insouciantly and watched while the atrocities at Gojra, Korian, and Sumbrial took place.

The advisor noted that a previous set of reforms lead to a series of clashes between the Law Courts and the previous dictatorship’s oppressive regime. This linked to the eventual suspension of the judiciary. It would seem however; that the reforms are back in progress and the High Commissioner believed that time would bring these reforms to fruition. All agreed that circumscribed reforms of the Policing and statutory bodies such as courts, local government agencies etc, is a high priority. This should include specific, concise Legal safeguards to prevent existing corruption and abuse.

5. Reform of Ulema Council
Points made:

Alex Chowdhry referred to the need for better regulation of Muslim clerics and what they were permitted to speak from Mosque public address systems. He advised that much of the recent clashes could have been resolved by early Police intervention and restrictions placed on loudspeaker announcements. The deplorable activities of the local Imams resulted in the mass incitement to violence.

High Commissioners Response:

The High Commissioner confirmed that a regulatory body already exists – later clarifying that it was more of a consultative group. He agreed that the local religious fervour and intolerance that resulted in the attacks on Christian villages in recent times, was amplified by the actions of the mosque clerics. He informed us that he would take up our comments with the Government of Pakistan and the consultative group.

6. Joint Electorate
Points made:

Alex raised the demand to scrap the current system that allows Christians two votes and all others one vote. He is of the view that a system which encourages Christians to vote for two separate candidates - one of a mainstream party and one for a specifically minority religious seat - is letting other mainstream political parties off the hook when it comes to representing minority groups in Pakistan. He explained that those quota system politicians are in any case given very limited space to manoeuvre and little credence within their; communities, respective political parties or other spheres. He therefore recommended, that this system, ought to be replaced with a one vote for all electoral system, that holds all politicians responsible for protecting and representing minorities in the country. This system would be akin to the electoral system in Britain where each mainstream political party fields its own minority candidates through ethnic minority or women's lists.

High Commissioners response;

The Pakistani High Commission noted this point and agreed to feed this back. Their only comment on this item was that the PPP has seven minority candidates and that a Minority Affairs Minister is in place.

7. Quota System –
Points raised:

Wilson spoke on this issue and argued that the quota system of employment needed to be extended to ensure more senior positions became available to minority recruits. Christians and other minorities continue to be concentrated in the lower socio economic rungs and lower civil service positions. Wilson also suggested that an appropriately monitored and audited census be taken. He requested that researchers should include a significant proportion of minority representatives, to reduce abuses of the data collection system. The BPCA believed that existing data on the percentages of minority groups was skewered, archaic and fallible at best. Such information has been used by previous governments for their own; personal devices, to gain advantage and often to subjugate minorities during periods of significant increased intolerance. It is purported by Christian Bishops of Pakistan that Pakistani Christians account for 13% of the total population of Pakistan. The BPCA believes the figure to be closer to between 8-10% of the overall general population.

High Commissioners response;

The Pakistani High Commission's response to this was that the Pakistani Government have just appointed a Christian Chief Justice, there has been an increase in the number of minority seats in Parliament and the recent appointment of a Minister specifically responsible for minority rights. Wilson questioned him on this and asked whether these were token gestures, a perfunctory response to ostensibly exhibit best behaviour? Wilson proposed that the High Commission should relay a request that effective correlation of roles provided with respect to a meritocratic process, should be evaluated and recorded in a palpable report. It is essential that recruitment should not be based on rudimentary roles to fulfil a lowest common denominator process.

The High Commission officials also stated that a lot of money had recently been invested in the quota system via employment but Alex pushed for more information about the timescales - how would this money be spent, what is the timetable for implementation, how has this commitment been progressed? The Political Advisor seemed to be suggesting that this policy had already been signed off and implemented. When BPCA suggested the need for a more detailed and up to date Census of the population of Pakistan they were criticised by the High Commission officials for going too far into micro management of internal Pakistani affairs. Pastor Jimmy Robinson reiterated the need for tangible evidence for Quota implementation. He remarked on the continual efforts to circumnavigate discussion by derailing the agenda. The High Commissioner then stated that the Quota process had been initiated.

8. Freedom of religion particularly changing one's religion both here and in Pakistan-
Points raised:

Some of this issue was addressed in the discussion on blasphemy and insults to Prophet Muhammad. Particular points were made about the persecution of converts away from Islam and the forced conversion of minorities to Islam. Moreover, although rarely implemented an Apostasy Law exists in Pakistan and it was felt that this should be repealed. Wilson raised issues regarding the NWF provinces but the groups decided to drop this subject, as it would be too large an issue for this early stage meeting.

High Commissioners response:

The High Commission did not appear to be taking this point seriously and in particular claimed that Pakistan comprises a high number of converts to Christianity that live very safely in the country. It is important to note that an intervention on the particular impact of conversion on women (reports of forced abductions of Hindu/Christian women for instance) were taken far more seriously by the High Commission officials and meant they were far less dismissive of this point.

9. Asylum seekers
BPCA made the point that they want to see better protection of asylum seekers that are returned to Pakistan.

The High Commission officials did not seem willing to discuss this point at all and questioned the suggestion that deportees are at risk on return to Pakistan and indeed suggested that people were making false claims about Pakistan. Wilson informed the High Commissioned that he is in correspondence with a failed asylum seeker who had returned to persecution after fleeing the country. The deported individual is now seeking Asylum in another country. The Pakistani High Commission questioned the veracity of this statement. Wilson explained that for the correspondent’s safety it would not be possible to divulge personal details, however he would try to seek permission from his correspondent.

Action: Wilson has agreed to obtain feedback from aid bodies such as “Release International” to substantiate the return of deportees into a quagmire of persecution.

10. Any Other Business:

Religious identity in passports: Raised by Atiq as exposing minorities to discrimination and harassment and demand that religious identity should not need to be listed in the passport. High Commission agreed to look into the matter and explained this would be a constitutional change that if ratified, would take time to implement.

Next meeting:
The High Commission officials agreed to feed back points of the meeting to the Pakistani government and to accept two written submissions - one on the blasphemy law and one on the impact of de-nationalisation of education on Christians. A follow up meeting was agreed for June 2010 – Wilson to be responsible for securing dates.
At the end of the meeting Rev Kevin Logan thanked the High Commissioner for his time and patience and commended him on being willing to discuss our difficult topics.
Alex thanked the High Commissioner for his exhibited committment to affect change in the qulaity of life for Minorities in Pakistan.
Wilson thanked the High Commissioner for his time, patience and in particular for the police protection that kept our churches safe, during the recent Taliban Christmas telephone threat.


  1. Good you met the Pakistan diplomat
    We met his counterpart in New Delhi before Christmas last year and gave him a detailed protest memo

    Dr John Dayal
    New Delhi, India

  2. Glad you met the Pakistani High Commissioner
    We met his counterpart in New Delhi before Christmas last year and gave him a detailed protest memo

    John Dayal

  3. Hi John,

    I am very pleased that you met with his counterpart in Dehli and am interested in posting the minutes from that meeting on my blog.

    Please send them through.

    Our meeting was a great success and we had a whopping 2 hour dialogue, in which we covered a wide range of topics as part of a multi-faith group who were committed to introduce change. The High Commissioner has agreed a follow-up audience in Six months time. We cannnot sponsor you, but if you would like to join our delegation and introduce a more international flavour, I can keep you informed of agreed dates.

    Kind regards


  4. Thanks guys making effort to easy the pain of Pakistanies christian.
    God Bless you all.

  5. Wilson and all other,

    I appreciate your efforst for highlighting different issues Pakistani Christians are facing from the past 62 years.

    Please keep it up!

    God bless you all.

    Bro John Bosco

  6. We appreciate your efforts for our persecuted Christian brethren, living in Pakistan.

    God bless!!!

    Taskeen Khan

  7. Nafees Zakaria2 May 2010 at 12:41

    Dear Mr Wilson, In the context of quota for the minorities the figure cited in the details of your meeting at the High Commission are incorrect. Minorities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroasterians, etc constitute 5% of Pakistan's population.