The US has “retained” Pakistan among the countries that tolerate religious discrimination. This determination of the US includes Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan among the states that have been re-designated as “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC)”.
The US State Department makes these designations under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and countries on the CPC list are classified as “having engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”. Countries in this category can face further actions, including economic sanctions, by Washington.
However, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Pakistan’s designation is reflective of “selective targeting of countries, and thus unlikely to be helpful to the professed cause of advancing religious freedom”.
The Pakistan Foreign Office said, “Pakistan is a multi-religious and pluralistic country where people of all faiths enjoy religious freedom under constitutional protections”. It added that all branches of the government — the executive, legislature and the judiciary — have made concerted efforts to ensure that all citizens of Pakistan can practice their religion freely. The higher judiciary of the country has given landmark judgements directing on ensuring the sanctity and security of places of worship of minorities.”
According to the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, the country has also engaged with the international community, including the US, to develop a better understanding of religious freedom issues. Earlier this year, the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Senator Samuel Brownback had visited Pakistan for dialogue to advance the mutual objectives of religious freedom globally. “It is regrettable that this constructive engagement has been overlooked,” Pakistan said.
Islamabad added that the subjectivity and bias of the exercise are further illustrated by the omission of India, which Pakistan termed as “the biggest violator of religious freedom”.
Pakistan said, “The US Congress has held two hearings and more than 70 US legislators have publicly expressed concerns over India’s treatment of Kashmiris and prolonged suppression of their fundamental rights in Jammu and Kashmir.” The truth is that ever since the revocation of Article 370 and the formation of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, things are moving towards normalcy. Even Pakistan’s closest allies snubbed Islamabad over the Indian move on Article 370 of her Constitution.
Islamabad has again raked up India’s internal affairs to hit out at Washington. Islamabad again said, “In India, people belonging to minority communities are being persecuted with impunity. Nothing can be far from the truth.
Pakistan also made unnecessary references to India’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the recently adopted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and termed those as “the latest examples of the Indian government’s actions to discriminate against people and evidently pave the way towards cleansing of society on the basis of religion.”
Indian Prime Minister and Home Minister have categorically stated that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is only designed to give Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The National Register of citizens (NRC), is not even in deliberation mode.
It needs to be emphasised that the entire world knows of the state of religious minorities in Pakistan. Today, they are less than even five percent of that country’s population. They not only face discrimination from the state and civil society but are also often labelled as traitors and spies. No freedom of religion exists in Pakistani for religious minorities. Scores of places of worship of minorities such as Sikhs, Hindus and Christians have been desecrated over the years.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised a ‘Naya Pakistan’ but eighteen months into office, it remains a pipe dream. Recently, the family members of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman, who was accused and then acquitted of the draconian blasphemy charge, said they live in perpetual fear of reprisals.
Islamabad needs to show maturity and tolerance in its statecraft and provide all its citizens with basic rights including the right of worship. Or else, it would continue to be in the list of countries where persecution of religious minorities is the order.
Script: Padam Singh, AIR: News Analyst