The US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken redesignated Pakistan into the list of countries of particular concern for allegedly engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom”. Pakistan was first added to the list in 2018 by the then secretary, Mike Pompeo, and since then has found its name along with Russia and China, among many other countries.
There is legitimate concern of growing religious extremism in certain areas of the country. This year alone, there have been five reported incidences of desecration of minority communities’ holy places. While in two cases, angry mobs had ransacked temples in separate incidences, the other three were a result of the government’s ongoing anti-encroachment drive in Karachi ordered by the Supreme Court – three churches along the city’s Gujjar Nullah were demolished.
Cases of forced conversions, especially among Sindh’s Hindu community, have also been reported in these pages alone. A four-member EU Parliamentary Delegation for South Asia Relations that had visited Islamabad earlier this month ahead of EU’s review decision to retain Pakistan’s GSP Plus status had also voiced similar concerns – a shrinking space for this country’s religious minorities. All this, despite the country’s leadership assuring to protect minority rights. There is undoubtedly an urgent need for the state to work towards the implementation of laws enshrined in the constitution. Not just to get out a list, but because our minorities deserve better than to live a life of fear.
Having said that, the US also needs to do some soul-searching. In a statement released in 2018, Pompeo had said, “In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The US will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression.” Why then India, who has on numerous times been found guilty of oppressing its minorities, especially Muslims, not been added to the list? In April, an independent US commission had also called for India to be added to the State Department blacklist on religious freedom. The report said the “religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory” under the BJP government’s nationalist policies. But despite that, New Delhi still finds itself out of the list.
Selective activism by the US only shows that the move to retain Pakistan in the blacklist is only rooted in its foreign policy goals used as a pressure tactic towards Islamabad. How exactly will it serve Washington is anybody’s guess.