For 16th year in a row, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that Pakistan should be declared a ‘‘country of particular concern’’ because of its ill-treatment of religious minorities.
However, the Trump administration, like its predecessors, has refrained from doing so, ostensibly to not vitiate the social fabric when Pakistan will go to the polls end-July.
The social and economic conditions are already bad and the US, which has strained ties with Pakistan, has avoided adding to the strains.
The USCIRF has been making this recommendation since 2002 but successive US administrations have continued to ignore their advice on the grounds that the proposed designation will fail to promote religious freedom in the country.
On Dec 22, 2017, the US Secretary of State placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for “having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom”.
The move caused speculations in the media that this year the administration may declare Pakistan a country of particular interest, triggering a set of new sanctions. But Pakistan escaped the designation this year as well.
The report, however, notes that last year at least 50 individuals were imprisoned on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, with 17 of them receiving death sentences. The annual US report on religious freedom also notes that authorities in Pakistan continue to enforce blasphemy laws, “whose punishment ranges from life in prison to the death sentence for a range of charges”.
The report warns that religious persecution remains a global issue, and in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran and Russia minorities still face widespread violations of religious freedom.
The report singles out an incident in April 2017, when a mob shot and beat to death student Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, “following an accusation of blasphemy later deemed by investigators to be false”.
It notes that throughout 2017, unidentified attackers in Pakistan targeted and killed Shias, Hazaras and Ahmadis in attacks believed to be religiously motivated.
Attacks against the Hazara ethnic group increased during the year and in five separate incidents, unidentified assailants shot and killed 15 members of the Hazara Shia community.
Assailants also killed at least seven members of the Ahmadi community in multiple incidents that appeared to be targeted attacks.
The report notes that the Urdu-language media in Pakistan, continued to show bias in reporting on minority religious groups, including multiple instances in which media used inflammatory language or made inappropriate references to minorities.
A Sikh businessman in Peshawar was shot dead in broad daylight earlier in May.
There have been several attacks on Shia and Ahmedi places of worship and on Christian churches. The shrine of Shah Qalandar at Sehwan was attacked last year.
Leave alone the Pakistanis, the country also ill-treats diplomats too. American officials have told the US Congress that Pakistan does not treat well the American diplomats stationed there. An American diplomat involved in a road accident was questioned, harassed and his movement curtailed, before he was allowed to go.
This behaviour of Pakistan has cast a shadow even on its economy. With these strained relations, Pakistan is hesitating to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and has, instead, appealed to China, its “iron brother.” However, China is not known for giving largesse – It only gives loans for specific projects and charges considerable interest.