Pakistan’s ‘zero’ consideration for minorities in federal budget irks Christians

By Asher John |
Pakistan Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb presents the federal budget 2024-2025
Pakistan Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb presents the federal budget 2024-2025, which does not allocate any funding for minorities welfare programs that are critical for minorities' education opportunities. | Youtube Screenshot / Dawn News English

Pakistani Christians have expressed their concerns over the government’s ‘zero allocation’ for minorities welfare schemes under the newly released annual federal budget, funds critical for education and hope for a better live for poorer religious minorities.

Federal Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb presented the national budget, estimated at 18.87 trillion Pakistani Rupees (US$68 billion) for the fiscal year 2024-2025, on June 12.

As per the budget documents reviewed by Christian Daily International, no funds have been allocated under the header "welfare of minorities initiatives/schemes". In the previous fiscal year (2023-24), the government had earmarked 100 million Pakistani Rupees ($360,000) which were maintained in the revised budget.

The funds allocated under minority welfare are mainly used for scholarships for students and support during religious festivals.

The exclusion comes at a time when Christians continue to face numerous challenges. These include systemic discrimination, violence, and the blatant abuse of the harsh blasphemy laws. Reports of forced conversions, kidnappings, and attacks on places of worship have been distressingly frequent, exacerbating the vulnerability of the Christian community.

Meanwhile, the budget for religious affairs has seen an increase. The allocation for religious affairs in the 2024-25 budget stands at 1,861 million Pakistani Rupees ($6.7 million), up from 1,780 million Pakistani Rupees ($6.4 million) in the previous year. Pakistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for managing religious affairs, including the welfare of Muslim Haj pilgrims.

The budget allocation for the human rights division, on the other hand, has also been slashed significantly.

For the fiscal year 2024-25, the division has been allocated only 104 million Pakistani Rupees ($374,000), a steep drop from the previous year's 814 million Pakistani Rupees ($2.9 million). Notably, the revised budget for 2023-24 indicated an actual expenditure of just 130 million Pakistani Rupees ($467,000) out of the 814 million allocated, raising questions about the utilisation of funds.

In another notable allocation, Pakistan has proposed a substantial budget for its armed forces. The defence budget for 2024-25 has been proposed at Rs 2.12 trillion ($7.6 billion), reflecting a 17.6 percent increase from the previous year. This constitutes 1.7 percent of the country’s GDP, highlighting military spending as the government’s top priority.

While the government has not given any explanation for not allocating funds for minority welfare, Christian leaders say that ignoring minorities welfare in the national budget was a blow to their development.

“We are appalled by the government’s decision of not allocating any funds for minorities welfare,” said Adeel Rehmat, the chief executive office of Pak Mission Society (PMS). Rehmat’s organisation facilitates Christian students in getting government and foreign scholarships for higher education.

Rehmat said that government funds were necessary to support students from vulnerable and marginalized communities.

“The funds were already scarce but the government’s decision to not allocate any money for minorities this year will affect many Christian students who aspire to seek education. The government must reconsider its decision in the larger interest of minority students who are as much Pakistanis as Muslims,” he told Christian Daily International.

Bishop Azad Marshall, the president of the Anglican Church of Pakistan, echoed Rehmat’s concerns.

“We are already witnessing a decrease in development schemes for Christians while on the other hand our people are suffering increased persecution by Islamist parties. While the government has failed to protect us, the least it can do is to empower us socio-economically so that our people can grow in the national mainstream,” he told Christian Daily International.

According to rights activist Sumera Shafique, the state’s actions showed that it was treating Christians as secondary citizens of Pakistan.

“Though the government has announced a 5 percent quota for minorities in federal jobs, Christians are being employed only on grade 4 posts, including sweepers, gardeners etc, while Hindus are being given preferential treatment in higher grades. By allocating zero funds for minority welfare, the government has dealt a major blow to Christians as our children will be deprived of the much-needed educational scholarships which can help them in lifting their families from poverty,” she said.

Religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others, together form less than five percent of Pakistan's 241 million people, with a 96.3 percent majority being Muslims.