Pakistan gives citizenship to first non-Muslim

Pakistan has awarded a Christian man from a troubled tribal region citizenship in a first for a non-Muslim, officials and his family said Saturday.

Sheharyar Masih, a resident of the northwestern Khyber region bordering Afghanistan, had recently applied for citizenship after turning 18.

“Sheharyar has officially been awarded citizenship and he now enjoys all rights that citizens of tribal regions enjoy,” senior local official Nasir Khan told AFP.

Sheharyar’s father Arshad Masih said he hoped the decision would encourage the roughly 50,000 people from religious minorities in the region to apply for citizenship.

Most of those people are Sikh followed by Christian and Hindu, he said.

“My son will now have an opportunity to apply for government jobs or to start his own business,” Arshad said, adding that minorities without domicile status did not enjoy equal rights.

His son’s was the first case under the recently announced policy, Arshad said.

“All non-Muslims in (the tribal regions) can apply for citizenship and I may also do the same,” he added.

Like other minorities, Sheharyar was previously living in Khyber on a “residential certificate”.

Discrimination and violence against religious minorities is commonplace in Pakistan, where Muslims account for more than 90 per cent of the population.

Christians make up around 1.6 per cent of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly Muslim population, with large settlements across major cities and around 60,000 in the capital, Islamabad.

Khyber is one of the seven semi-autonomous tribal regions, which have been facing the brunt of over a decade-old war against terrorism.

The military began the regional offensive in 2014 in a bid to wipe out militant bases, carrying out air strikes and using artillery, mortars and ground troops.

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