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Monday, June 18, 2012

Forum for Secular Pakistan launched

Ammar ShahbaziMonday, June 18, 2012
From Print Edition

Karachi

Amid relentless chants of Allah-hu-Akbar coming from just yards away, a group of progressive lawyers and social activists launched ‘The Forum for Secular Pakistan’ (TFSP) at the Karachi Press Club (KPC) here on Sunday.
The TFSP is a group of like-minded people committed to fighting growing religious fanaticism and obscurantism and promoting the ideals of secularism. Senior politician Sherbaz Khan Mazari presided over the occasion.
Former law minister Iqbal Haider, read out a declaration signed by civil rights activists, lawyers and intellectuals from across Pakistan. In the statement, Iqbal said that the ideals of secularism were not alien to Pakistan. “The founding fathers of Pakistan were dedicated to the idea and wanted Pakistan to be a secular.”

Haider quoted Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s famous inaugural speech to the constituent assembly of Pakistan, where the founding father said “in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense… but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

“When we started this initiated, we felt that someone has to come forward and speak against the unchecked fanaticism that is gripping Pakistan,” said Hasil Bizenjio, a senior Baloch politician and vice president of the TFSP.
“Today, whereever we go, we find Taliban. We are too scared to speak in front of the Mullah’s gun, but somebody has to speak,” he said.“The basic principle on which Pakistan was created, that is, the right of the federating units to self determination, is essentially a secular idea,” read Iqbal Haider, as he nudged Bizenjo, who was sitting beside him.

Iqbal argued that when a nation tries to bind itself to a single idea or ideology, the remaining segments of the society become secondary. “Hence, those who associate themselves with the state’s ideology attain an unwarranted position in the society, which is unfair to the rest.”

“The preference,” he explained, “could be a religion or an ethnic group, or whatever dividing line one may chose”. Earlier, while welcoming the guests, Iqbal chose not to address the non-Muslim guests as minorities, saying that he believes the non-Muslims of the country are as much a part of the mainstream and have equal rights and are equal citizens of Pakistan.

“Today, wherever we look, we find people being massacred in the name of religion and ethnicity. The Hindus are being persecuted. The Hazaras are being killed. The Baloch are being massacred. This nation should have a heart,” said, Sherbaz Mazari. Mazari insisted to the host that he not be introduced to the audience as a ‘Sardar’.

As the conscientious citizens set out their alternative vision for Pakistan in the front-yard of the Karachi Press Club, just outside, a group of protestors had gathered holding posters of Aafia Siddiqui and chanting religious slogans.
The irony of the situation was not lost on the journalists, who later discussed it in hush-hush tones over tea.

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