Upholding minorities' rights is the responsibility of an Islamic republic: Fawad Chaudhry

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday asserted that it is the responsibility of an Islamic republic to uphold the rights of its minorities.

Chaudhry's statement comes a day after he defended the appointment of leading international academic Atif Mian to the government's Economic Advisory Council amidst a vicious online campaign that targeted the latter for his Ahmadiyya faith.

Chaudhry had said that those who had objections to Mian's appointment "are basically extremists, and we will not bow to extremists."

"Protecting minorities is our responsibility. It is the religious duty of each Muslim, not just the government, to protect minorities and respect those that they live with," he had said.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government came under fire after Chaudhry's statement, with many criticising the government for its dismissal of the backlash against Mian's appointment.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad after a cabinet meeting today, Chaudhry responded to a question saying: "Protection of minorities is an integral part of Islam. When we speak about Khatm-i-Nabuwwat, we recognise that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last prophet. And along with that we also recognise Islamic education."

"It was an integral part of the state of Madina that minorities would be protected there. Minorities here will be given rights. Pakistan is an Islamic republic... And why was Pakistan itself created? What was the issue when Hindustan was united? That the Muslim minority faced a lot of cruelty. On the basis of that, we separated from that country. Should we now disregard that basis [for the creation of Pakistan]?" he asked.

"Is it not said that if you take one life, it is like killing all of mankind?" he continued.

"If you think that we should drown all our minorities in the Arabian sea, or that they have no rights here, they have no religious or economic freedom, or freedom to live, then this must be your opinion only. Our interpretation of the state of Madina is that Islam means security, peace and moving forward together," he asserted.

"It is not just the responsibility of the government to protect minorities, it is the responsibility of each Muslim," he reiterated.

"Because of these things," Chaudhry said, referring to the persecution of minorities, "The entire world makes fun of us."

Pakistani prisoners on death row in Iran to get relief

Chaudhry said that approximately 3,000 Pakistani prisoners on death row in Iran will be granted relief since Tehran amended its anti-narcotics laws.

"From Pakistan's point of view, it is a source of relief that in Iran they amended their anti-narcotics laws, so the quantity and severity in cases has been amended," he explained.

"We are hopeful that Pakistanis on death row in Iran will be given some relief," he added.

The Pakistani government spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in this regard when he visited Islamabad in August, Chaudhry said, adding that the Pakistani embassy was also in touch with the prosecutor general in Tehran with respect to the matter.

Recovery of money illegally taken abroad

The cabinet today took several decisions for the recovery of money taken abroad illegally or gained through corruption, Radio Pakistan reported.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, who was addressing the press conference alongside Chaudhry, said a whistle-blower law would be enforced immediately through an ordinance envisaging a reward worth 20 per cent for those who would help recover such money, and that the names of informants would remain confidential.

The special assistant said another ordinance on mutual legal assistance would be issued which would help remove bottlenecks in the way of seeking information from foreign countries regarding illegal wealth.

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed the Foreign Ministry to dispatch a high-powered delegation to Switzerland to expedite ratification of a treaty on exchange of information on bank accounts. He said the treaty had been signed in 2013 but was not ratified, Radio Pakistan reported.

Akbar said that the government would also hire firms that would detect and help recover illegal money and in the case of recoveries, the firm would get an agreed upon share of the recovered amount.

He said PM Khan would also receive reports on the implementation of these measures on a fortnightly basis.

Chaudhry also announced the return of Rs80 billion to the Finance Ministry and parliament in the form of the prime minister's discretionary funds. He said that the money had been saved through ending schemes such as the Prime Minister's Laptop Scheme.

The cabinet also made decisions on initiatives regarding education, health, water and sanitation. "Although they fall under the provinces, we think they are important and will be driven by the federal government," Chaudhry said.

Among them is the decision to set up a task force on education led by Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood. It will include prominent educationists, representatives of seminaries and skill development personnel. Its first objective is to include 250 million out of school children in the education network.

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