While it is not clear if the European MPs were provoked by a particular incident, one cannot deny that Pakistan has to put in far more effort to gain the trust of its minorities. There are some laws on the statute books — including the blasphemy law — that actively operate against minorities. Although the constitution pledges protection for the rights of minorities, it also contains provisions that have caused a sense of insecurity among them. Attempts have been made to modify some laws, but the situation has not really changed on the ground. The blasphemy law that was introduced by the military regime of Gen Ziaul Haq is the most draconian and open to abuse. It has been used on a number of occasions to penalise communities that are not Muslim, with entire villages having been set on fire — Shantinagar is still fresh in our memory. An attempt by the Musharraf government to modify the process of registering a case under this law also ran into trouble.
With social prejudices increasing in an atmosphere of growing religiosity, it seems that minorities are becoming more vulnerable, even if they have rights under the law. Moreover, against a background of growing lawlessness in the country, they face a real danger of being targeted physically. They are discriminated against and, what is worse, cannot expect any protection from the state. The government must take a firm stand on their rights even if it means standing up to those obscurantist elements that have always opposed greater rights for Pakistan’s minorities. This government would be issuing a political statement in support of the minorities if it were to work towards repealing the blasphemy law. A campaign is also needed to make people aware of the virtues of tolerance. Without a change in the public mindset the current environment of hostility will remain.