During a session of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly in October 2016, intense debates were ongoing between the treasury and opposition benches over development issues of the province. In a bid to pressure the ruling party, the opposition leader decided to stage a walkout and 40 lawmakers followed suit. However, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s minorities seat member Frederick Azeem Ghauri remained in the house. When pushed by his colleagues, he commented that he has been waiting three months for his calling-attention notice to be taken up in the assembly’s agenda and now that it had, he would not let it go to waste in a token walkout. With his comrades gone, the Christian lawmaker raised the issue of fixed quotas for minorities students in the province’s colleges and universities. He also demanded formulation of rules for the various laws pertaining to minorities so that they can come into effect.
From 2013-2018, the KP Assembly featured three lawmakers from minorities. In this period, a total of three bills were introduced in the assembly of which two were passed and made into law. These are the KP Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Act and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Evacuee Trust Properties (Management and Disposal) Act which were passed in late 2014. The bill that could not be made into law was the KP Hindu Dispossession of Properties Bill.
As per the KP Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Act 2014, the KP Commission of Minorities has been formed with the chief minister’s adviser on minorities, Wazir Zada, as the head of the eight-member body. The law empowers the commission to grant permission for the sale or lease of minorities’ communal properties and any violation would result in jail terms. While the KP Evacuee Trust Properties (Management and Disposal) Act resulted in the handing over of ETPB properties to their board.
After the General Elections 2018, the assembly, following a lengthy discussion spanning a couple of years, passed the KP Rehabilitation of Minorities (victims of terrorism) Endowment Fund Act in December 2020. As per the newly-passed law, the provincial government has established a fund with Rs200 million seed money which will be used for the rehabilitation and welfare of minorities who become victims of terrorism.
A senior official of the provincial law ministry shared that the federal government has proposed to all the provinces that it be granted power to legislate on issues of minorities as their issues transcend provincial borders and demand a unified approach. He added that the KP Cabinet is expected to pass a resolution on these lines, which will be ratified by the provincial assembly as well.
The official stated further that at the moment, the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is working on resolving issues related to the marriages registration of Hindus and Christians and will soon have appropriate legislation passed from Parliament.
Talking to Sabaat, Wazir Zada informed that work on implementing the increased 4% quota of minorities is under way in the relevant departments while the development fund for minorities is being brought into utilisation as well. With regards to the federal government taking over legislative issues of minorities, he said the idea is to have similar laws across the provinces, adding that the provinces will retain the right to amend or reject federal laws.
Peshawar-based Hindu rights activist Haroon Sarab Dial emphasised the need for urgent legislation in the province so various issues of minorities can be resolved, such as protection of their properties and special curriculum in schools.