It was a great pleasure to meet Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London during a meeting on March 17th at the High Commission in London.
We discussed the Coronavirus crisis and the challenges which it poses for our two great Commonwealth countries.
On arriving at the High Commission I was very moved to see a frail and very elderly man on the arm of a young man who was carefully translating for him into Urdu the latest advice and news reports about Covid-19.
The importance of providing information which is accessible in languages other than English is an issue raised later in the day on the floor of the House (see below)
With Morris Johns, the Secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistan Minorities, which I co-chair with Jim Shannon MP, we had a very worthwhile and constructive discussion about Pakistan’s minorities and I raised several individual cases, including that of Shagusta Kauser – who remains in prison ( see – https://www.davidalton.net/2020/03/03/yesterday-march-2nd-was-the-ninth-anniversary-of-the-assassination-of-pakistans-minister-for-minorities-shahbaz-bhatti-to-mark-his-murder-and-the-failure-to-bring-anyone-to-justice-parl/ ).
Perhaps during this season of Lent – and following Iran’s example of freeing prisoners at risk of the virus – Pakistan might offer an act of compassion by releasing Shagusta and her disabled husband?
If they remain incarcerated, in the present circumstances, I worry for their safety and well-being. Their lives are in grave danger.
Both the High Commissioner and I – standing under a portrait of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinah – applauded the country’s foundation principles which insist that every citizen, regardless of religion, caste, or ethnicity, must have equal citizenship and by treated justly by the law.
Later in the day I met with Rehman Chishti MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief – and we discussed worldwide persecution, including the situation in China and Pakistan, and the plight of Muslim Uighurs and Rohingya.
Rehman Chishti has a hugely important mandate – with millions persecuted globally on account of their faith or beliefs. I told him that if the Foreign Office are serious about implementing the recommendations of the Truro Report it is vital that it is adequately resourced.
He is expected to do a phenomenally important job with wholly inadequate resources. It must have more than Cinderella status.
Along with adequate resources he should also be given a regular Question Time slot in the House of commons where he would be able to keep MPs abreast of the issues and his work.
The frightening truth of religious intolerance against minorities
MARCH 18, 2020, Daily Times – Pakistan
Religious intolerance and hatred against religious minorities in Pakistan is reported on in this article from the Daily Times