Minority reports – 22 May 2023

TWO recent American reports paint an unflattering picture where the state of religious freedom in Pakistan is concerned. The US State Department`s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom`s section on Pakistan presents an extensive list of incidents of religious persecution in the country.

It observes that in 2022, at least 52 people `were accused of blasphemy or related religious-based criminal charges`. Most of the accused were Ahmadi. It also highlights the issues of forced conversion and targeted killings on religious grounds.

Meanwhile, the annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom also has few good things to say about freedom of belief in Pakistan. Highlighting many of the same issues the State Department report mentioned, the USCIRF document recommends re-designating Pakistan as a `country of particular concern`, while advocating targeted sanctions against Pakistan. Reacting to the State Department report, the Foreign Office has termed it `ill-informed … irresponsible and counterproductive`, while claiming that Pakistan`s Constitution offers a `robust framework` for religious freedom.

While the US does tend to use such reports as political tools, there can be little argument with the findings. Even if these reports had not been compiled, the grim fact is that the state of religious freedom in Pakistan is far from ideal. The public lynchings over accusations of blasphemy, misuse of the blasphemy law, and the marginalisation of minority communities are all stark realities in today`s Pakistan. This is so because, whereas the country`s founders had envisaged a pluralistic state where all denominations would be free to profess their beliefs, over the decades, rabid extremists have hijacked the discourse often encouraged by the establishment bringing us to where we stand today. Instead of living in denial, the state must work to roll back the tide of extremism that threatens to take Pakistan under.

This must be done not to please any external powers, but to make Pakistan a more liveable place for all its citizens.

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