Exclusive interview with Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha: Archbishop expresses concern at civilian casualties in Balochistan
* Says minorities are considered ‘second class citizens’
* Calls for joint electorate in country
* Minorities should be allowed to study their religions in schools and colleges
By Ali Waqar
LAHORE: The archbishop of the Lahore Catholic Church has expressed concern at the civilian casualties in Balochistan, and has called for a political settlement to the issue. In an exclusive interview with Daily Times on Sunday, Dr Lawrence John Saldanha discussed current affairs and issues of national solidarity including democracy, the Balochistan issue, status of minorities in Pakistan, the local council system and the human rights situation in the country.
The bishop said that democracy is the best form of governance, adding that the “weakest democracy” is better than any other system of governance.
Balochistan: About the military action in Balochistan, the bishop said: “There should be no use of force in the province. The army should not be allowed to shoot civilians. The solution to the issue lies in peaceful negotiations.”
However, the archbishop also criticised the feudal system in the province. “The (feudal) system needs to be revised,” he said. “A political solution is required to the issue, which will otherwise affect the entire country and have serious political and social consequences.”
Dr Saldanha called for an immediate end to military action in the area. “An immediate ceasefire is essential. The parliament and federal cabinet must be taken into confidence for any operation,” he said.
He called on the government to initiate programmes for the development of the province.
Status of minorities: The archbishop dismissed claims made by the government about the freedom of minorities in Pakistan. “Minorities are still afraid in this country,” he said. “We cannot possibly become equal citizens and feel secure in Pakistan under the circumstances.” A majority of the country’s citizens consider minorities to be “second class citizens”, he said.
Dr Saldanha said that the government did not take the burning of churches in Sangla Hill seriously, and none of the accused had been arrested. “It was a test case for the government. Unfortunately, no government functionary at the top level responded to letters jointly written by the representatives of churches across Pakistan.”
Curriculum: The archbishop supported the initiation of inter-faith studies. Citing the study of Islamic studies at the school and college level, he said that minorities should also be allowed to study their respective religion in educational institutions as a substitute to Islamic studies. “The church sent a proposal to the government for teaching the Bible in schools a few years ago, but it has not yet been considered,” he said.
Minority Council: He criticised the role of the Minorities’ Advisory Council and demanded a permanent commission instead. “We are not satisfied with the present minority council,” he said. “The Ministry of Minorities and the council are never serious about addressing our grievances.”
Democracy: The archbishop said that democracy is the only lasting solution to the country’s problems. “Even a bit of democracy is better than any other form of government,” he said, stressing on the need to restore “real democracy” in Pakistan.
Joint electorate: Dr Saldanha supported elections in the country based on joint electorate. He said that such a system would give a sense of equal citizenship to the minorities. He called on mainstream parties to promote the equality of minorities and support joint electorate.
Provincial equality: He stressed on the need to “strengthen” smaller provinces. “Fair sharing of resources is the key to national unity,” he said. He supported the government’s decision to seek countrywide consensus in building water reservoirs and welcomed the construction of Basha Dam.
Education: Dr Saldanha said that missionaries had played an important role in the promotion of education, health and social development. Missionaries had successfully established more than 500 schools across the country even after the nationalisation of their institutes in the 70s, he said.
He demanded that the government de-nationalise missionary institutions and return them to their respective churches.
Discriminatory laws: The archbishop called for the repeal of the hudood and blasphemy laws. “These laws incite attacks on the minorities’ places of worship, killings and the destruction of property,” he said. “They have been used as a tool for social disharmony.”
Local council system: He said that the progress of the local council system needs to be monitored. He was unsure of the system’s success in Pakistan for the long term.
Water reservoirs: The archbishop praised President Pervez Musharraf for taking the initiative to announce the National Finance Commission Award.