“After the partition of India, our entire family migrated to Pakistan and settled in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was the country and city of our forefathers, and now it is ours.” Meena, a 55-year-old resident of Peshawar, shared her family’s migration history.
Expressing her views on the selection of minority representatives, Meena suggested that having a representative from the minority community contest the election, rather than being appointed to a reserved seat, would be more effective. According to her, this approach would address their issues more promptly, as a representative on a reserved seat might not fully cater to the needs of the minority community.
As per the 2017 census, the total population of religious minorities in Pakistan is 7.32 million, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa accounting for an estimated 0.25 to 0.3 million (three lakh) disputed by the minority community, who claim a population of around 5 lakhs.
Wazirzada, a former Member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) elected from Tehreek-e-Insaf on a reserved seat in the 2018 election, voiced his concerns about the current system. He explained that before Pervez Musharraf’s regime in 2002, minorities elected their representatives by voting directly. However, Musharraf’s tenure introduced a system of reserved seats, changing the selection procedure.
Wazirzada criticized this system, stating that minorities should have the right to choose their representatives through direct voting, enabling accountability. He highlighted the need for a two-thirds majority to amend the system, expressing the challenges in achieving this change.
Regarding Imran Khan’s attention to the issue, Wazirzada mentioned efforts to grant minorities the right to a double vote, allowing them to vote for both the majority and their representative. However, due to the lack of a two-thirds majority at the time, this proposal did not materialize.
In the current system, Wazirzada proposed adding seats specifically for minority women. While there are four minority seats in KP, his suggestion aims to ensure representation for minority women, addressing the current situation where only men secure these seats.
Sardar Hussain Babak, the Provincial Secretary General of the Awami National Party, emphasized a unified political goal for all, advocating against separate selection processes based on religion, gender, or ethnicity. He viewed politics as a service to humanity beyond divisions.
Kiran Kumari, a Hindu teacher in Peshawar, lamented the shift in the representation system. Previously, elected representatives worked for the welfare of their communities and were accountable. However, with the current practice of appointing representatives to reserved seats, she argued that these individuals primarily serve their party’s interests, often neglecting the needs of their minority community.
In response to the issue, senior analyst Muhammad Faheem concurred with Kiran, emphasizing that the problem lies in the current method of selecting minority representatives. He highlighted the shift from direct voting for minority representatives in Legislative Assemblies to the party-nominated reserved seat system.
Faheem argued that this change has deprived the minority community of genuine representation, as elected representatives were previously accountable to the masses and their communities. Since Pervez Musharraf introduced the reserved seat system after 2002, political parties have been selecting representatives, leading to an absence of true representation for minorities.
Chairman of All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, Haroon Sarab Diyal, expressed dissatisfaction with both methods of election. Having witnessed both the voting-based system and the current practice where political parties nominate representatives, Diyal asserted that neither approach adequately addressed the problems faced by the minority community. He mentioned the longstanding appeal for reserved seats for minority women, a demand that has yet to be implemented by the government over 75 years.
Haroon Sarab Diyal criticized the performance of minority representatives, noting that despite having four representatives, including Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus, essential legislations for their communities, such as the Kailash family law and Hindu Marriage Rules, have not been enacted or tabled. He highlighted the disparity between allocated funds for minority events, including festivals, and the lack of tangible benefits reaching the poor.
According to Diyal, the issues confronting minorities continue to escalate, and as citizens of the country, they deserve to enjoy all basic human rights. He emphasized that mere representation without effective legislative action and policy-making does not address the core concerns of minority communities.
The spokesperson for the Election Commission of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sohail Ahmad, provided insight into the current reserved seat system for minorities. He mentioned that parties submit priority lists during elections, and the returning officer compiles a priority list. If a party secures general seats, reserved seats for minorities and women are allocated to it proportionally based on the number of general seats won. This process, he acknowledged, is selective and not a direct election.
Ahmad clarified that the Election Commission’s role is to conduct elections according to the existing law, and any changes to the selection procedure for minorities would require legislative amendments. He noted that if a two-thirds majority in the assembly passes amendments to the selection procedure, the Election Commission would be obliged to conduct elections accordingly.
Note: This story is part of a Pakistan Press Foundation Fellowship.