May 16, 2017
On 10 May 2017, following UNPO's conference "Who Pays the Price? CPEC and the Challenges Facing Ethnic & Religious Minorities in Pakistan", the journalist and editor-in-chief of MO* Gie Goris interviewed some of the event's speakers at the TV studios of the European Parliament. During the round-table, interviewees Dr Rubina Greenwood (World Sindhi Congress), Mr Mirza Wajahat Hassan (exiled Chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Thinkers Forum), Mr Rashed Rahman (former editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times) and UNPO’s Fernando Burgés revealed some of the hardships that ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan are facing. From historical grievances embedded in the history of the Pakistani state, to the rise of extremism and the impact of economic mega-projects, minorities have been the most affected within the Pakistani society.
Highlights of the interview include Mr Rashed Rahman explaining that journalists in Pakistan face increasing pressure and restrictions on their freedom of expression in light of the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan, a “fall-out of terrorism of the Afghan War” and increasing discontent with the state of democracy in the country. He reminded that the issue of minorities in Pakistan has its roots in the history of the state, the formation of which was based on the premise of autonomy for South Asian Muslims. Although intended as a “safe space” for the largest minority in undivided India, Mr Rahman argued that the formation of the Pakistani state and the subsequent declaration of an Islamic Republic is the backdrop of increasing repression against religious minorities in Pakistan.
Dr Rubina Greenwood from the World Sindhi Congress provided important insights into the historic struggle of the Sindhi people. Reminding that Pakistan was founded on the principles of the 1940s resolution - which stated that all joining states would remain sovereign states - she pointed out that the principles set forth in this resolution were not and are not respected by the Pakistani state. Hence, there is a nationalist struggle of the Sindhi people as they seek political representation as well as the right to manage their own resources. These issues become particularly relevant when considering that Sindh is Pakistan’s most resource-rich province, while simultaneously being one of the most poverty-stricken regions.
Mr Mirza Wajahat Hassan, in turn, discussed the geographic importance of Gilgit-Baltistan to the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. As more than 650km of the economic corridor would run through the Pakistan-occupied territory, the region is key to the development project. Nonetheless, as Mr Hassan highlighted, no leader or resident of Gilgit- Baltistan was consulted in the negotiation processes of this mega-project. When asked about the potential economic benefits to the region, he stated that Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed a large influx of middle to upper-class Pakistani citizens into its territory, affecting not only the demographic composition but also the local economy, adding that CPEC also raises environmental concerns.
Speaking about UNPO’s role in raising awareness of minorities in Pakistan, UNPO Programme Manager Mr Fernando Burgés explained how the organization engages with the European Parliament and international organizations on behalf of its members. Besides observing that UNPO is merely requesting Pakistan to fulfil its human rights obligations, Mr Burgés reminded that Islamabad has yet to ratify treaties such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Photography: Markus Buderath