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ISLAMABAD: Speaking on the controversy of a Hindu temple's construction in capital, Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri told National Assembly on Wednesday that there was no question about its construction and the real issue was whether or not it could be built using pubic funds.

He said there has been a lot of talk on the issue recently, adding there is no need to debate on the rights of minorities as they are protected by the PTI government.

"The party's manifesto calls for removing all obstructions in implementation of constitutional provisions regarding the rights of minorities," he added.

The minister said that a few minority members of the assembly had contacted him and said they had acquired four kanals for the temple and asked him to arrange funds for its construction.

"I told them that I had limited funds for renovating existing places of worship and can't arrange such a large sum. On the request of the members, the matter was referred to the prime minister and there has been no progress in this regard," he said.

He continued that a few religious scholars had issued statements opposing the construction of the temple through public funds.

"There is no question on the temple's construction. The issue is whether or not it can be built by using public money." He added that the issue has been sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology.

Qadri said construction had been halted due to technical reasons and issues with the Capital Development Authority.

His remarks come a day after the Islamabad High Court disposed of three identical petitions filed against the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad's Sector H-9/2.

The court had observed that the construction of a worship place required mandatory approval of the regulator, in this case the Capital Development Authority.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said that it was unacceptable to deprive minorities of their places of worship and the rights granted to them under the Constitution.

"We've condemned violence against Muslims in India and Indian atrocities in occupied Jammu and Kashmir. When we speak out against all these issues, the persecution that Muslims are facing, the annexation in Israel...if we don't protect and defend our own minorities, how will we fight the case of other Muslims across the world," she questioned.

Mazari went on to say that the government had a very clear stance on the issue and supported and defended the rights afforded to minorities under the Constitution of Pakistan and international conventions signed by Pakistan.

Earlier speaking, PML-N stalwart Khawaja Asif said that a systematic campaign against minorities is being planned and pursued by religious bigots.

He highlighted what he termed a "planned campaign against minorities" being run on social media in retaliation of Indian atrocities against Muslims in occupied Kashmir.

"If minorities don't feel safe in Pakistan then it is a matter of shame for us. It is our responsibility to protect their places of worship.

"Up until the 1970s, Pakistan was a tolerant society. It was after the 1980s that extremism crippled our thinking [...] fault lines have been created which can be damaging for the country."

He added that there was a church in Boston where Muslims offered Friday prayers. "I myself have offered Eid prayers at a church in New York, but we can't imagine such a thing happening in Pakistan," he added.

This is a country of 220 million people, he said, adding that under the Constitution, everyone has equal rights irrespective of their religion. "As public representatives, it is our responsibility to promote tolerance in the country."

Commenting on the issue raised by Asif, Mazari said that the government will take action against this as soon as they receive the evidence and will report to the House about the steps taken.

She said that 'it can't happen that we endanger them, strip them of their rights, and prevent them from celebrating their festivals in their places of worship. That is unacceptable".

"Pakistan's vision is the same as Quaid-i-Azam's. We stand with it and draw strength from it when we raise our voice against the persecution of Muslims around the world because we know our law and Constitution safeguard the rights of minorities," she added.

"We cannot have violence against minorities and deprive them of their places of worship," she said. The minister added that she will not comment on other issues, as some matters were still sub judice.

"When we raise our voice against Indian atrocities in Kashmir, we have to show that we are different. They tear down our mosques, disrespect our places of worship, but we will not do that.

"It is our responsibility to defend minorities and give them their due rights. They are equal citizens of Pakistan, our Constitution says this and we stand with that."

However, a few Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) lawmakers objected to Asif's comments about all religions being equal.

MNA Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali said it was our responsibility to protect the worship places of minorities which already existed in the country, but there was no room for building a temple in the capital with public money.

"There is no example of this in Islamic history. During the rule of the four caliphs, no worship place was built using Muslim tax payers' money."

PPP's Syed Naveed Qamar endorsed the PML-N leader's speech, stating that minorities have the right to practice their religions.

"If Pemra and other institutions can act on political issues, why are they not taking action against those uploading caricatures on social media," he said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020