The debate of identities is a deep-rooted phenomenon; In modern nation-states, the majority is always considered as dominant and privileged. Whereas the minority is usually viewed as a marginalized and underprivileged class of the society. Identities are constructed in society on the basis of caste, creed, religion, language, ethnicities. Identity-based politics are some of the important features of South Asian states. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two heterogeneous societies having varied ethnicities and religious belongings. Minorities of both states have played a dynamic and progressive role in the development of their respective states.
Primarily, Pakistan and Afghanistan are both Muslim states with 96% and 99% of Muslim population, respectively. There are more minorities in Pakistan as compared to Afghanistan. According to the data of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Christians account for 1.59%, Hindus account for 1.60%. Moreover, the scheduled castes account for 0.25% of the total population. Though religious minorities only account for about four percent of Pakistan’s total population, yet they actively contribute to national progress and development through all domains of society. On the other hand, around 84.7–89.7% of the population in Afghanistan is Sunni Muslim, while 10%–15% is Shia Muslim. The rest of the minorities, mainly Hindus and Sikhs, account for roughly 1% of Afghanistan’s population. Conflict and religious violence in Afghanistan during the last two decades have forced many to migrate to western states.
On the other hand, no ethnic group in Afghanistan constitutes more than 50% of the population. Pashtuns constitute 40% of Afghanistan’s population while Tajiks are the second majority group with around 33% of the population. Hazaras account for 11%, Uzbek’s account for 8% while Turkmen account for 2% of Afghanistan’s population. Kyrgyzs, Baloch’s, Aimaqs, Ismailis, Brahuis, and Nuristanis are a few of the other minority groups residing in the country each comprising less than 1% of the country’s total population. Ethnic minorities in Pakistan include Sindhis who account for 14.1% of the total population. Whereas, Pashtun’s account for 15.42 % of the total population. Mohajirs comprising 7.57%, and Balochis constituting 3.57% of the population. Other groups include Hazaras, Bengalis, Saraikis, people of Kalash, Kashmiris, Baltis, and Biharis.
Western organizations have exploited multiple cases regarding religious discrimination. Due to which the country has earned a bad repute. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended Pakistan amongst the states of particular concern for violation of religious freedom while it recommended Afghanistan for Special Watch List in October,2020. Pakistan was later on designated by the United States amongst countries of particular concern for violations of religious freedom in December,2020.
The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam, particularly guaranteed the right of religious freedom in Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his Constituent Assembly address on August 11th, 1947 by said, “You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.
Furthermore, 1973 Constitution of Pakistan also exclusively guarantees the rights of minorities. On the other hand, the Constitution of Afghanistan guarantees limited freedom to religious minorities. Due to this very particular reason, the President of the country has to be Muslim. Space for non-muslims is also negligible in Loya Jirga and Wolesi Jirga. Awtar Singh Khalsa, was the only non-muslim politician in Afghanistan who was the Sikh representative to Loya Jirga from Paktia Province. He died in July 2018.
Despite constitutional guarantees, the state of minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan is less than ideal. In addition to ensuring the rights of minorities legally, societal awareness and intervention are much needed for both these states. Socially, culturally and religiously accepting, tolerant and diverse societies are the only way forward for both of them to ensure inclusive development.
While Pakistan and Afghanistan are evolving their ties in multilateral dimensions, a joint council for religious harmony can be created which can specifically focus on issues pertaining to religious harmony and rights of minorities in the region. Ensuring the equal rights of minorities is a challenging yet attainable task for the respective Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan.