Every five years (and I hope it remains five), the question of minorities’ participation in the election arises. While some minority leaders create a lot of noise about representation, including calls for a ‘dual vote,’ most major political parties feel content after mere lip service or some other token gesture. However, the issue of minorities and the election is far more critical for our nation building process than we think, and therefore the issue merits closer attention. Unless all minorities become part of the national discourse, and even shed their pejorative ‘minority’ title, Pakistan will not become a progressive and stable countrySince all minorities are full and equal citizens of Pakistan (at least on paper), they should be treated as such by the political parties. Most political parties have a ‘minorities’ wing’ where non-Muslim Pakistanis are clubbed together, shielded not just from the majority but also from the party’s decision making processes. There is simply no reason for such ‘minorities’ wings’ to exist. The only thing it perpetuates is exclusion, ghettoisation, and marginalisation. If political parties really want to give members of other religions in Pakistan the same rights, and most importantly, the same opportunities, they should include them in the party’s general body and appoint them to general party positions. Here the issue is not just of inclusion, but of integration. By keeping the majority away from the minority in the political process, both sides are prevented from interacting with each other. There is no cross over discourse amongst the regular and minority wings in parties, and both sides largely exist oblivious to each other. Hence, separation and exclusion continues. Pakistan can only progress as one nation if all citizens are given the same level of opportunity and the same platform.Furthermore, religious minorities are not just on the fringes of an election, but are central to the electoral process. There are several national and provincial assembly seats where religious minorities are a significant voting group and the cultivation of their vote can actually change the outcome of an election. For example, according to a major study done by Community World Service, in three Sindh constituencies there are more than a hundred thousand non-Muslim voters, in seven the number of voters range between 99,999 and 50,000, and there are a total of thirteen national assembly seats (6 in Sindh and 7 in the Punjab) where non-Muslim voters number between 49,999 and 25,000 of the constituency. Most political parties have a ‘minorities wing’ where non-Muslim Pakistanis are clubbed together, shielded not just from the majority but also from the party’s decision making processesTaken together, the number of seats where non-Muslims are more than 10,000 in all of Pakistan brings up the tally to: 59 seats in the Punjab, 38 in Sindh, and one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. These are not insignificant numbers, and so minorities need to be made part of the electoral strategy by all political parties. In the same report, the numbers showed that during the 2013 general elections in at least 43 constituencies across Pakistan, the number of minority voters outstripped the winning margin of the successful candidate. Furthermore, in terms of significance to 2013 provincial assemblies, 99 seats across all four provincial assemblies had a winning margin smaller than the population of minority voters in the constituencies.This clearly shows that minority voters can indeed sway an election, not just locally and provincially but also nationally, and therefore they need to be mainstreamed in all political parties as officer holders, ticket holders, and workers. Additionally, minorities should stop thinking that only a co-religionist can represent them. I have heard minority leaders talking about representation in through an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ binary worldview quite often. It is not as if minorities in Pakistan have problems which are alien to the majority community, or are issues they cannot understand. A poor Muslim living in Bahar Colony Lahore, for example, largely has the same issues as that of a poor Christian in the same area. Therefore, the question in an election should not be who belongs to my religion and can represent me, but who can represent my interests and me, regardless of religious affiliation. Of course that could be a person from the same religion, but can also be from a different religion. By seeing representation primarily through a religious lens, Pakistan’s minorities are making the same mistake they want to wean the majority away from.Pakistan’s general elections are still a few months away, and so there is still time to make concerted efforts to include all Pakistanis — from all religions and none — in the national discourse. Elections are the main building blocks of democracy, and so let us begin the end of discrimination from this central institution.The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYKPublished in Daily Times, April 22nd 2018.