IRF concerns in Pakistan. Recently the IRF Summit took place in Washington, D.C. from June 28th through the 30th. Several hotspots were topics of conversation during the event.
One of those nations that is currently generating concern is Pakistan. At this time the country has been designated as a CPC (Country of Particular Concern) by the U S State Department as defined under the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016. Earlier this year USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) in its annual report recommended that Pakistan once again be designated as a CPC.
What exactly are the concerns that have led to these decisions? One report that was released during the summit by International Christian Concern paints a very dismal outlook for Religious Minorities in the Country. Pakistan has a long history of weak governance, the recent removal of Imran Khan as Prime Minister recently is just the latest event in the saga.
Extremism is able to flourish inside Pakistan due to the weak governance. Another factor that contributes to the situation within the country is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country. One additional factor is that the actions of the fundamentalists are either endorsed by or sponsored by the state.
Some of the methods used to suppress the efforts of Religious Minorities include forced conversions and marriage, attacks against the houses of worship belonging to minority groups, the use of apostasy and blasphemy laws against individuals and outright discrimination. The current estimate is that since the 1990s, 1500 people have been charged with Blasphemy in Pakistan. However there have been zero executions and 70 people have been lynched by mobs according to a report by the Religious Freedom Institute. The report also found that the Blasphemy Laws currently enforced in Pakistan are a legacy of British Colonial Rule.
The situation on the ground is challenging. While there are harsh charges for Blasphemy including life in prison or even facing capital punishment, These laws in fact penalize reiligous minorities for any actons or statements that are deemed offensive to Islam. What is a concern is that any member of a Religious Minority may face accusations that are levied based on community perceptions rather than whether or not any actual crime has taken place. Actions in the communities are also attempting to discourage minorities from identifying and practicing their faith in public. There have been instances where clergymen have been targeted by militants for their dress. This is meant to discourage others from openly identifying their faith in Pakistani Society.
Using the above mentioned criteria it’s not hard to fathom that these minorities including Christians are second class citizens. One NGO actually reported while during the Covid-19 Pandemic Day Laborers were able to receive assistance from authorities if they would convert to Islam.
Who specifically is a target for the oppressors? The answer is a woman that is a member of a minority group are the targets for the most severe persecution. Christian women are specifically targeted for forced marriages. Despite Laws on the books declaring a minimum age for marriage at this time law enforcement is not reliable in this matter and often perpetrators walk away with impunity.
There are several concerns in Pakistan to monitor. One question that remains is will the US State Department redesignate Pakistan as a CPC? Based on events on the ground the Biden Administration should do so.