ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday rejected as baseless assertions made about Pakistan in the International Religious Freedom Report released by the US Department of State.

“Such ill-informed reporting exercises about internal affairs of sovereign states are pointless, irresponsible and counterproductive,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told a press briefing.

She said Pakistan is proud of its religious diversity and pluralistic social fabric. She pointed out that the country’s Constitution has set a robust framework for wide-ranging legal policy and affirmative measures to safeguard and advance the rights and freedoms of all Pakistanis irrespective of their faith.

“These rights and constitutional guarantees are protected, upheld and reinforced by an independent judiciary. We strongly believe that each state itself has the primary responsibility to promote and protect religious rights and freedoms of its nationals,” she emphasised.

FO says country is proud of its religious diversity, pluralistic social fabric; killing of Palestinians condemned

The spokesperson said Pakis­tan had always engaged constructively with the international community in promoting mutual understanding on the important question of religious freedom and minority rights. In its interactions, including with the United States, Pakistan has raised serious concerns about the steady surge in anti-Muslim hatred, racism and Islamophobia.

“We hope to work with international partners to counter these pernicious forms of religious intolerance, discrimination and Islamophobia,” she said.

Unrest in Gaza

Ms Baloch said Pakistan had been closely following developments in Gaza and other occupied Palestinian territories and it was concerned about the impact of violence on civilians.

She condemned the loss of precious lives of 33 Palestinians, including women and children, over the last several days. She called on Israel to adhere to its international obligations and respect the recent ceasefire agreement, ending days of bloodshed and indiscriminate use of force in Gaza by Israeli occupation forces.

“Pakistan reaffirms its unstinted support for the Palestinian cause and renews its call for a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state, with pre-1967 borders and Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital as the only just, comprehensive and lasting solution of the Palestinian question, in accordance with the relevant United Nations and OIC resolutions,” she said.

Situation in India-held Kashmir

The spokesperson welcomed the important statement made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Affairs, Dr Fernand de Varennes, on the situation in India-held Kashmir.

In his statement, the Special Rapporteur warned against Indian plans to hold the G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting in Srinagar.

“He has rightly said that India is providing a ‘veneer of support to a façade of normalcy’ at a time when massive human rights violations, illegal and arbitrary arrests, political persecution, restrictions and even suppression of free media and human rights defenders continue to escalate,” she said.

“We agree with the special rapporteur that the situation in occupied Jammu and Kashmir should be decried and condemned, not pushed under the rug and ignored with the holding of the G-20 meeting. Members of G20 should pay due attention to these observations and sage advice,” she added.

Answering a question about the US Congressmen’s letter to US Secretary of State, expressing concern over trial of political workers in Pakistan under the Army Act, she reiterated that Pakistan had the full ability to deal with all domestic challenges in accordance with law and Constitution.

In reply to a question about Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, she said Pakistan considers it an important project that symbolises friendship between the two countries. “We remain committed to this project…there are some issues regarding its completion for which both countries are engaged in talks. We will continue to discuss with Iran all aspects of the completion of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.”

When asked to comment on ethnic cleansing in the Indian state of Manipur, she said: “As a principle, we do not comment on the internal affairs of other countries. In the past, however, Pakistan has expressed concerns about the treatment of minorities by India and we hope that India will make efforts to protect its minorities.”

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2023

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