It seems that Pakistan’s leaders will never realise and never admit their detrimental effect upon the nation and its standing in today’s world.
Throughout the election campaign, very little has been said by our aspiring leaders to uphold the freedoms that are now expected to exist in a civilised and democratic state. On April 30, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2013 annual report. Found to be one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to an abundant lack of tolerance, it was recommended that Pakistan be designated as a “country of particular concern”.
As related by Foreign Affairs on April 30, in a write-up by the director of policy and research at the USCIRF: “An array of repressive laws, including the much abused blasphemy law and religiously discriminatory anti-Ahmadi laws, foster an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. The growth of militant groups espousing a violent religious ideology who undertake attacks, impact all Pakistanis and threatens the country’s security and stability.” He suggests that the report allows facts to speak for themselves and uses this quote from it:
“The Pakistani government failed to effectively intervene against a spike in targeted violence against the Shia Muslim minority community, as well as violence against other minorities. With elections scheduled for May 2013, additional attacks against religious minorities and candidates deemed ‘un-Islamic’ will likely occur. Chronic conditions remain, including the poor social and legal status of non-Muslim religious minorities and the severe obstacles to free discussion of sensitive religious and social issues faced by the majority Muslim community. The country’s blasphemy laws, used predominantly in Punjab but also nationwide, target members of religious minority communities and dissenting Muslims and this frequently results in imprisonment. The USCIRF is aware of at least 16 individuals on death row and 20 more serving life sentences. The blasphemy law, along with anti-Ahmadi laws that effectively criminalise various practices of their faith, has created a climate of vigilante violence. Hindus have suffered from the climate of violence and hundreds have fled Pakistan for India. Human rights and religious freedom are increasingly under assault, particularly women, members of religious minority communities, and those in the majority Muslim community whose views are deemed “un-Islamic”. The government has proven unwilling or unable to confront militants perpetrating acts of violence against other Muslims and religious minorities.”
We expect only silence on religious freedom from President Asif Ali Zardari and his men and women of the Zardari PPP as they have shown a remarkable consistency over the past, really distasteful, five years in ignoring and keeping firmly away from any hint of doing away with or even amending laws that are directly confrontational towards the freedom of religion and even of thought.
Some other leaders’ records are also not exactly shining when it comes to any let-up on religious intolerance and bigotry, but perhaps, one did expect more from the great Khan rather than the stand taken on the Ahmadis. After all, the first objective of the PTI constitution is: “To make Pakistan an egalitarian, modern and Islamic welfare state that upholds the fundamental rights of the people in which all citizens, regardless of gender, caste, creed or religion can live in peace, harmony and happiness.” The MQM, to give it due credit, is the sole party that publicly makes the right noises.
The wholesale pandering to the religious right, whether through fear, power-lust or conviction, is reprehensible and can never, in any way, further the cause of this republic.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2013.