An actor of tremendous merit, Ahsan Khan is admired for being a competent actor, a sincere human being, and a committed activist. After a break of more than two years, the talented young man will soon return to the world of television dramas with three television serials. In an exclusive interview for the Daily Times, he talks to Ally Adnan about the break that he took from acting in television plays, his upcoming projects, and the plight of minorities in Pakistan.You have not been seen in a television play since the phenomenally successful 2016 serial ‘Udaari.’ Why have you not worked in a serial in more than two years? Working in ‘Udaari’ was a very intense experience. It exhausted me emotionally and physically. I needed some time to recover and recoup my histrionic energies. The period of rest is now over, and I will soon be seen in three television serials – Epic Entertainment’s ‘Alif,’ Hum Television’s ‘Aangan’ and TV One’s ‘Maryam Parera’.You were very active in the two years that you refer to as a “period of rest”. You worked in a stage play in London, acted in a feature film, hosted PTV’s Ramzan transmission, lent your voice to an animated movie, hosted two seasons of a program for kids, and started writing a book about child sexual abuse. Did you really get any rest in the last two years? Yes, I did. I worked in all the projects that you mentioned – and more – but none of them were as grueling as ‘Udaari’. They afforded me the intellectual and emotional respite that I needed after doing a serial dealing with child sexual abuse.Do you believe that ‘Alif’, ‘Aangan’ or ‘Maryam Parera’ will be as successful as ‘Udaari’? I believe that all three television serials are very good and will be successful. They are nothing like ‘Udaari’ in terms of subject and theme but have their own unique strengths and qualities. ‘Alif’ has been written by Umera Ahmad and is being directed by Haseeb Hassan. The cast includes Hamza Ali Abbasi, Sajal Aly, Kubra Khanand several other famous actors. The serial deals with the battle between spiritualism and materialism in our society. I play the role of an artist, who is inspired by Rumi, in the play. It is a small role – a cameo, to be honest – but one that is very interesting and important. ‘Aangan’ is based on Khadija Mastoor’s 1962 novel of the same title and deals with the inner lives of women dealing with love, loss and betrayal in politically turbulent times. The immensely talented Mohammed Ehteshamuddin is the director of the play which has been written for television by Mustafa Afridi. I play the role of an orphan named Safdar who escapes the sadness of life with a foster family by going to study at the Aligarh Muslim University. It is a complex, nuanced character that undergoes a huge transformation during the course of the play. I believe it will be very popular with viewers. The cast of the serial also includes Mawra Hussain, Sajal Aly, Ahad Raza Mir, Omair Rana, Sonya Hussain and Abid Ali. ‘Maryam Parera’ tells the story of a female schoolteacher, who is pursued by two of her colleagues and is conflicted about her desires for the two men. The story is simple but has a lot of depth and complexity. It has been written by Riffat Siraj and is being directed by Iqbal Hussain. Sadia Khan, Emmad Irfani and I play the principal characters in the love triangle. I love the austerity of the play’s story and structure, the richness of its characters, and the profundity of its theme and story. It is a very special play.We have almost four million Christians in Pakistan. They deserve greater representation in the media. ‘Maryam Parera’ will present them on television, I think, for the first time. I hope that other television serials will follow suit‘Maryam Parera’ seems to be very near to your heart.I love all three serials – ‘Alif’, ‘Aangan’ and ‘Maryam Parera’ – equally, albeit in different ways, but, yes, ‘Maryam Parera’ is very near and dear to my heart. I am also the producer of the serial.Why is ‘Maryam Parera’ special?The principal character of the serial – the titular ‘Maryam Parera’ – is a Pakistani Christian. I believe that it is for the first time in the history of television in Pakistan that a religious minority has been presented in a central role. ‘Maryam Parera’ treats its Christian characters responsibly, with a lot love, respect and intelligence. That is what makes the serial special.Do you believe that religious minorities are treated well in Pakistan?I absolutely do not. Religious minorities are treated as second class citizens by Pakistani Muslims and subjected to discrimination, abuse and workplace inequality. This is patently wrong. The mistreatment of minorities makes us bad Muslims, bad Pakistanis and bad human beings. It distresses me greatly. In a truly Islamic society, all citizens have equal rights and religion is never the basis for any discrimination. Islamic law considers Muslims and non-Muslims to be equal and does not accord any special privileges to Muslims. The history of Islam is full of instances where Muslims and non-Muslims have been treated equally and subject to one and the same laws. Indeed, Christianity and Judaism has flourished in many Islamic empires. It is disturbing to see Pakistani Muslims treating religious minorities with contempt, disdain and unfairness. I have a particularly soft corner for Pakistani Christians. They played a very important role in the creation of Pakistan. A large number of Christian organisations actively supported Quaid-E-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his mission. The father of the nation promised complete equality to all citizens. In his address to the first constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, he said, “you are free to go to your temples; free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the state”. It is sad to see that the Quaid’s words have been all but forgotten.Do Christians have equal citizenship in the predominantly Muslim Pakistan?No, they do not, but they should. It is my absolute belief that all Pakistanis – Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Kalash, Muslim, Sikh, Zoroastrians and others – should have equal citizenship.Do you believe that the state of Pakistan does enough to protect the rights of religious minorities?Not really. It does try to do things every now and then but always seems to fail. The state’s actions really fall in the category of doing too little, too late. I will give you an example. There was some talk of protecting the Kalash people a couple of years ago, even though it was already too late, but nothing concrete was actually done. With a population of less than three thousand, the Kalash people are on the verge of extinction. I do not think they can be saved. Pakistan is a signatory to UNESCO’s Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage but has never made any real efforts to place the people on its Safeguard List. This is very sad.Does Article 2 of the Constitution help or hinder minority rights in Pakistan?Article 2 of the Constitution protects religious minorities in two ways. One, as citizens of Pakistan and two, as people who have the absolute right to freely profess and practice their religion. It is sometimes criticised because the clauses related to the protection of minorities are buried deep in the text and because the article refers to Islam very frequently and not to any other specific religion. People who believe in the separation of church and state, so to say, do not like that. I, for one, support Article 2 wholeheartedly. It is clear, fair and just. The problem is not with the article but with the people interpreting it and implementing laws based on the article. The laws will work only if people believe in them. Therefore, to answer your question, Article 2 neither hinders nor helps religious minorities. In order for it to help, Pakistani people need to understand its text, spirit and essence and support the formulation of laws based on the article.Why do you think the population of minorities in Pakistan has decreased by more than fifteen percent since its creation in 1947?It has decreased because we have failed to treat minorities with fairness, kindness and equality. We have failed to give equal citizenship to minorities and not allowed them to live with us in peace and harmony. Many Islamic countries, Egypt, Malaysia and Turkey, to name a few, have succeeded where we have failed. It pains me greatly to see Pakistan lose the rich benefits of diversity due to the exodus of minorities.The constitution of Pakistan guarantees the rights of minorities. A few laws have been passed to protect the rights of religious minorities, as well. Yet, the country seems to be plagued by systemic, endemic and egregious violations of freedom of religion. Do you believe that the laws and the Constitution have failed to protect religious minorities because they contradict societal, cultural and local norms, or is there another reason for their failure?Laws work when they represent the norms, beliefs and morality of people, and fail when they are at odds with the intellectual, moral and cultural fabric of society. The people of Pakistan need to believe that treating religious minorities with fairness, equality and justice is the right thing to do. The only way to ensure the validity, potency and effectiveness of laws passed to protect the rights of religious minorities is to develop a culture where religion is not allowed to become the basis of any sort of discrimination.Do you believe that ‘Maryam Parera’ will help the cause of Pakistani Christians?Yes, I do. ‘Maryam Parera’ is Christian but her religion is not the only thing that defines her person. She is also a Pakistani and a human being. She is intelligent, strong and conscientious. She contributes to Pakistani society in a number of ways. And, she is no different than Pakistanis of other religions. Therein lies the strength of the serial. It mainstreams Christians by treating them as regular Pakistanis and not as alien, different people hugely different than their fellow citizens. I believe that there were, historically, only two instances of Christians being presented as lead characters in Pakistani media. The first time was in Sangeeta’s 1976 film ‘Society Girl’ and the second time in Asim Abbas’s 2018 film ‘Cake’. We have almost four million Christians in Pakistan. They deserve greater representation in the media. ‘Maryam Parera’ will present them on television, I think, for the first time. I hope that other television serials will follow suit.The writer lives in Dallas and writes about culture, history and the arts. He tweets @allyadnan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, September 30th 2018.