Earlier this month, the US State Department added Pakistan to a special watch list, while re-designating a group of other countries as being of “particular concern” on the issue of religious freedom. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the US re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. What a wonderful club we have joined.
The timing of this placement comes when Pakistan and US are fighting a war of words over the tweet by the American president. Officials in Pakistan feel that the US will try and censure Pakistan in more ways than one. The placement is cited by our bureaucrats as one such example.
This takes away attention from a very real issue — the consistent manner in which members of our religious minorities are being targeted by different groups, while the government looks the other way.
Pakistan has to seriously look at its record not only with regards to religious minorities but also certain communities like the Hazara community. The government has largely been unable to trace the attackers and bring them to justice. Hundreds of innocent people have lost their lives for no fault of their own.
I recall meeting members of the Hazara community in Karachi as hundreds have migrated here from their hometown of Quetta given how unsafe it is there for them. Bright young men and women tell me how hard it is for them to venture out of their homes to earn a living or pursue an education. It is a shame for us that we allow them to live in such fear and danger.
Random killing of members of their community continues to be a
common occurrence. Out of desperation they leave the country. I once
interviewed a Pakistani journalist of Hazara origin in Sydney, where he had fled after threatened by a religious outfit while doing his job in Pakistan.
This young man pines for home but says he fears he will be killed if he goes back. I wonder why citizens of Pakistan have to face this fate in their own country. This young man risked life and limb to board an illegal boat to Austalia. Today he barely ekes out a living. But he says he is happy as at least he is alive. Where did we lose the August 11 vision of the Quaid? What has become of us?
Several religious minorities suffer from random attacks on its members. Systematically members of these communities are being killed by unidentified persons on account of their beliefs. Despite the dangers they face, most of the members of the community continue to live as best they can in Pakistan as not all of them can leave and claim political asylum.
The Christian community received a number of jolts after their places of worship and homes were attacked and hundreds killed. Apart from the daily mistreatment many of them receive, they continue to live the best they can in their homeland. It is only now, after the ending of the separate electorate system that some politicians have started to pay lip service to these communities.
Christians are frequently targeted for their beliefs and in many disputes end up being accused of blasphemy. Most Christians are poor and illiterate and easy targets. In most instances, it is the parcels of land that they own which are sought after by greedy landlords.
Forced conversions continue to be a recurring theme for the Hindu community in Sindh. Despite legislation and protests, many young Hindu women have been kidnapped and converted forcibly to Islam under the eyes of the law. The Hindu community is targeted for other reasons and every time there is a lynching in India of a Muslim, the community has to bear the brunt on this side of the border.
These are only a small number of examples of a much larger problem. Those arrested for rioting in Youhanabad have been offered to be let off if they convert to Islam. The whole attitude of the majority is to convert all minorities to Islam, taking away the beauty in diversity of this country. It is time we looked at ourselves in the mirror and had a serious dialogue. We don’t need the US to tell us that.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2018.