Pakistani minorities leery of democracy

The Japan Times

LAHORE, PAKISTAN – In majority Muslim Pakistan, religious minorities say democracy is killing them.

Intolerance has been on the rise for the past five years under Pakistan’s democratically elected government because of the growing violence of Islamic radicals, who are then courted by political parties, say many in the country’s communities of Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other minorities.

On Saturday, the country will elect a new Parliament, marking the first time one elected government is replaced by another in the history of Pakistan, which over its 66-year existence has repeatedly seen military rule.

But minorities are not celebrating.

Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the vote, and minorities say even the mainstream political parties pander to radicals to get votes, often campaigning side by side with well-known militants. More than a dozen representatives of Pakistan’s minorities interviewed expressed fears the vote will only hand more influence to extremists.

Since the 2008 elections, under the outgoing government led by the left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), sectarian attacks have been relentless and minorities have found themselves increasingly targeted by radical Islamic militants.

Minorities have little faith the new election will change that.

“We are always opposed to martial law (but) during all the military regimes, the law and order was better and there was good security for minorities,” said Amar Lal, a lawyer and human rights activist for Pakistan’s Hindu community.

About 96 percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million is Muslim. Most are Sunni, but according to the CIA Factbook about 10 to 15 percent are members of the Shiite sect.

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