PAKISTAN – Religious persecution: Free pass for Pakistan

ORF | Sushant Sareen | May 11, 2020

Pakistan has known for long that it has a serious image problem. It enjoys notoriety as a country which is a safe haven for all kinds of terrorists, a state that is mixed up with export of terrorism outside and encourages radical Islamism inside, a society that is deeply bigoted and sanctions the persecution of religious minorities, a hybrid polity in which political dissent is crushed, media is muzzled, and governments are ‘selected’ by the military, not elected by the masses. Simply put, for all its pretensions of changing its spots, Pakistan is no poster boy of liberal and secular values. As a country, state and society, Pakistan is a place which neither respects and tolerates different faiths, nor defends religious freedoms of minorities. And it is certainly not a place where human rights (including the right to freedom of expression and dissent), and political rights of citizens are protected.

Year after year, the egregious assaults on religious minorities and their persecution have been documented by organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). For instance, in its latest report on the state of human rights in Pakistan, HRCP states: “religious minorities remained unable to enjoy the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed to them under the constitution. For the Ahmadiyya community in Punjab, this included the desecration of several sites of worship. Both the Hindu and Christian communities in Sindh and Punjab continued to report cases of forced conversion. In Punjab, girls as young as 14 were forcibly converted and coerced into marriage.” The report goes on to add that “in recent years, however, the people from minority religions have been facing persecution, and the Hindu community is feeling insecure and vulnerable as they face antagonism and mob attacks over allegations of blasphemy. Kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls are the main complaints of the Hindu community in Sindh.” According to one report published five years ago, around 1,000 girls are forcibly converted in Pakistan every year, some of them in their pre-teens. Since then things have only deteriorated, so much so that the Pakistani superior judiciary partakes in, succumbs to, and facilitates this activity. The case of Rinkle Kumari who was thrown to the wolves by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, and recently a similar action by the Islamabad High Court in which the judges and the amicus curiae (all supposedly defenders of human rights) handed over two sisters who had been kidnapped and forcibly converted to their abductors.

While there is a continuum in the persecution of minorities taking place since Pakistan came into existence, the record of the Imran Khan government on rights of religious minorities is particularly bad. Reports like that of HRCP highlight the problem but are unable to capture the sheer magnitude of inequities and indignities heaped on minorities in Pakistan every day. The HRCP, for example, mostly regurgitates press reports, which in turn only touch the tip of the iceberg of religious persecution in Pakistan, which since its inception has functioned like the Islamic State while pretending to be an Islamic Republic. The recent overdrive of the media corps of the Pakistani military establishment to whitewash the image of the state and society by managing perceptions do not however hide the reality of a state in which the so-called independent media has been crushed under the combined assault of the military jackboot and its political collaborators who are supplanted in government through a tainted electoral process. Nor does it hide the subservience of the judiciary and the complicity, even obsequiousness, of the so-called civil society on which so many in India so touchingly seem to place so much faith.

Despite its terrible reputation for being a virtual hellhole for religious minorities, Pakistan has always been given a free pass by the West. The so-called liberals in the West might insincerely cluck in disapproval over what happens in Pakistan, but they have never really exerted to hold Pakistan to account. Until 2018, the US government didn’t even feel the need to designate Pakistan as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) where there is a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” This was mostly because of political and strategic reasons. And even after Pakistan was designated as a CPC, the US State Department has been issuing waivers against any possible sanctions being imposed on Pakistan.

Not only the US, even the Europeans, who are far more preachy than the Americans, have year after year looked the other way on the horrible crimes that the Pakistani state and society have visited on religious minorities. The GSP+ status that the EU granted Pakistan after the 2010 floods clearly laid out that Pakistan had to conform to 27 treaties and conventions related to human rights and labour conditions. Pakistan has, however, not delivered in any meaningful manner on any of these treaties. Even if it has signed on some of these treaties, it has observed its obligations more in their violation. And yet, the EU has extended the GSP+ every year. It is almost as if the West has conceded some kind of exceptionalism to the Islamic State (pun entirely intended) of Pakistan. No surprise then that the Pakistani state and society feels they are entitled to mistreat and persecute minorities without any fear of any consequences from the international community.