Pakistan’s minister for religious affairs and minorities announced last month that President Zia ul-Haq’s government had decided to create a separate electorate for each non-Muslim group. Iftikhar Ahmed Ansari, speaking to a Christian New Year’s gathering in Rawalpindi, said the decision was made in response to strong overtures by the Christian and Hindu minorities; it will enable them to select their own spokesmen in parliament.

The minister, quoted in the Karachi Dawn, said that while the government is committed to establishing an Islamic order in Pakistan, Muslims “are duty bound to ensure justice and security to all citizens of the Islamic State, irrespective of beliefs.”

No timetable was announced for the change in the electoral setup. The change would be designed to compensate for the fact that with large Muslim majorities in all parts of the country, minorities go virtually unrepresented. Pakistan originally had a separate electorate, but it was abolished during the presidency of Ayoub Khan in the 1960s.

Spokesmen at the reception during which the announcement was made lauded the decision. A portion of the Christian community has long demanded the return of a separate electorate. Other Christians opposed the decision, saying it would permanently set minority groups further apart.

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