PAKISTAN’S shortcomings when it comes to protecting religious minorities as well as followers of various Muslim sects are well known.
Yet when these inadequacies are amplified on the world stage the effect is more sobering. And as a recently released annual American report on religious freedom indicates, 2014 was hardly a year to remember for Pakistan on this count.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom report says that “Pakistan represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom”.
In fact, the report recommends that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern”, which can trigger economic sanctions under American legislation.
The document says Shias, as well as Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus experienced violence in the country, while it also highlights the reported forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam.
It is also critical of this country’s blasphemy laws. It should be mentioned that the report is not Pakistan-specific and mentions other countries as well; for example it says that India, under BJP rule, has witnessed increasing acts of violence against that country’s Christians and Muslims.
But the embarrassing prognosis of Pakistan’s problem of religious violence should make the state take a long, hard look at what is wrong and how to fix it.
So far, the current year has also shown no signs that those who kill in the name of faith are a spent force; the Shikarpur and Peshawar imambargah bombings, as well as the Lahore church attacks, serve as deadly reminders of their potency. The major problem, as the report points out, is that hardly any of the perpetrators who commit acts of violence on religious grounds, as well as the individuals who incite and support them, have been brought to justice. In fact, over the last few weeks we have seen groups with overtly sectarian, violent agendas march in cities across Pakistan. With such groups still on the prowl, the argument that the establishment is taking action against religiously motivated murderers is seriously dented. The state must realise that unless it acts against religious zealots who practise and preach violence, not only will Pakistan continue to get a bad press internationally, but such violence will have a detrimental effect on communal and sectarian relations within the country. To show the world as well as its own citizens that it will not tolerate religious violence, the Pakistani state must permanently put jihadi and sectarian groups out of business.
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2015