Pakistan: A dangerous country for religious minorities
Nasir Saeed

Pakistan has become “a more and more dangerous country” for religious minorities. These were the words of the HRCP’s (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) Secretary General, Mr I A Rehman, at the launch of the commission’s annual report.

Mr Rehman is highly respected and known for his integrity not only in Pakistan, but throughout the world. However, if you ask any Pakistani politician about the state of minorities or how protected they are in Pakistan, their prompt nefarious reply will be that minorities are happy and enjoying equal rights in the country.

This is despite incidents like Shanti Nagar, Gojra, Sialkot, Badmi Bagh and the attack on a Peshawar church being self-evident as to the increasing religious intolerance against minorities by the state and Islamic society.

If they insist on arguing that minorities are safe in Pakistan, why is that there is so much international concern about the protection of minorities’ rights, safety and honour?

The world seems worried about them and questions are reverberating in the House of Commons, EU and even in America about the oppression of minorities and misuse of blasphemy laws against them.
Whether Pakistani politicians are genuinely oblivious, or simply choosing to ignore the obvious, there is no doubt that the situation could be very costly for them.

The Pakistani government wants the world to see the treatment of minorities through their eyes – set within the context of an Islamic state – while at the same time espousing democracy. Yet turning a blind eye to harsh realities suggests they are not interested in Pakistan’s future.

On May 1 during the Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion debate at the House of Commons, Naomi Long MP said she believes that equality and religious freedom are fundamental to a democratic society, and that both must be promoted and protected, with the situation in Pakistan being extremely serious.

Mr David Burrow MP commended the timeliness of the debate, because only the day before Pakistan’s Prime Minister visited and met Prime Minister David Cameron, while Pakistani Christians were protesting and making the point that a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated the situation in Pakistan is the worst in the world for religious freedom.
Pakistani Christians hope that Mr. Cameron would have raised the issue of the misuse of blasphemy laws with the Pakistani Prime Minister – as he assured Mr. Rehman Chishti he would do when question about the matter in PMQs on April 9.

During an Easter reception at 10 Downing Street Mr Cameron expressed his desire to do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians. He also said that we should stand up against the persecution of Christians and other groups and should be unashamed in doing so.

There was time when it was just a few organisations and clergy who were concerned about Christians’ suffering, but now that several politicians, and even the prime minster himself, have openly expressed their concerns about the misuse of the blasphemy laws and Christians’ persecution, support seems to be growing.

It is a very clear message but Pakistani ministers have a very thick skin and will not understand until they are made to face the consequences for not ensuring the protection of minorities.

During his time in the UK Mian Nawaz Sharif has met many community leaders, but has not bothered to see the Christians. He has become Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time, but I wish he had realised that the world has changed so much since he started in politics. The misuse of blasphemy laws and persecution of minorities is no longer an internal matter, but it is rapidly becoming an international matter and international interference cannot be rule out.

In its April 30 annual report the USCIRF said Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as “countries of particular concern.”

In the past year, conditions hit an all-time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting mostly Shi’a Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus. The previous and current governments failed to provide adequate protection or to arrest perpetrators.

The Commission has again recommend that Pakistan be designated as country of particular concern (CPC). Pakistan can take advantage of being the frontline ally in the war of terror but for how long can its rulers feign ignorance?

Sajid Karim, member of the European Union has expressed his apprehensions that facilities given to the Pakistan can be taken back. Many of us do not know that the GSP plus status given to Pakistan was on the basis of all or nothing.

In the package there were many countries that the European Parliament really wants to support, such as Moldova and Georgia, so it was easily approved but many EU parliamentarians believe the Pakistani human rights situation is at its worst and doesn’t fulfil the requirements of a host of international human rights conventions it has signed.

The next year is going to be difficult for Pakistan as the European Union will finalise a framework in the coming weeks to monitor whether it is complying with the 27 UN conventions to get GSP Plus status – if Pakistan loses GSP+ plus status, only the politicians will be to blame.

On May 1 Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said to a delegation of Germany’s Lower House of Parliament, which was headed by Norbert Lammert, its president, that the government was committed to rule of law and protecting human and minorities’ rights in Pakistan.

Earlier the chief justice of Pakistan, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, said that a law should be made to protect the minorities and thus Muslims living overseas (western countries) will be protected. The judiciary has a vital role to play in protecting human rights.

The whole world knows that Christians and other religious minorities are being persecuted in Pakistan but alas Pakistani rulers and politicians don’t want to acknowledge this, but this will not change the reality. The reality is what David Cameron, Rehman Chishti, Prince Charles, President Obama and even Pakistan’s own chief justice have said. The whole world seems concerned about minorities, but will Pakistani politicians ever listen and realise it. Though Pakistani politicians consider the laws just, but international community has a different opinion therefore the Pakistani government will have to change its view and consider minorities equal citizens of the country, if it wants to change the world’s perception of its cultural and religious tolerance.

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