About USCIRF Report on Religious Freedom

By Sajjad Shaukat

In its 2017 annual report on religious freedom in the world, released on April 26, 2017, US Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended 16 countries, including Pakistan for their deteriorated condition of religious freedom and demanded from US Department of State to designate these countries as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).

On the state of religious freedom in selected countries, Chair Thomas Reese, S.J. said, “The Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. In the 2017 report, the Commission calls for Congress and the administration to stress consistently the importance of religious freedom abroad, for everyone, everywhere, in public statements and public and private meetings.”

Although the Commission has mentioned other countries, yet it shows the US double standards in case of Pakistan and India in relation to religious freedom. In case of India, the USCIRF report has only fulfilled formality. But, it has especially malign Islamabad as part of the continued propaganda campaign against Pakistan, because the latter is the lonely nuclear country in the Islamic World, which irritates the eyes of the US-led countries like India and Israel, including some Western countries. Besides, strategic location of Pakistan’s Balochistan province which is abundant mineral resources, and after signing of the agreement in relation to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, has become special target of these countries.

Regarding Pakistan, USCIRF report said, “Pakistan is Muslim majority country of 190 million people, religiously diverse Population 95% Muslims and 5% non-Muslims. Two to four million Ahmadis are not counted as Muslim by law. Religious freedom conditions are marred by religiously discriminatory Constitutional provisions and legislations. TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan], Pakistani branch of ISIS and LeJ [Lashkar-i-Janghvi] which have are continuously targeting civilian, Military, LEAs, NGOs and civil society including minorities. Religious minorities suffer from political and social marginalization. There are only 10 seats out of 342 in Pakistan National Assembly and no seat in Pakistan senate. Government of Pakistan initiated 20 points National Action Plan (NAP), which aims to fight against terrorism/extremism and calls for stopping hate, crime and violence against religious minorities. Section 295 & 298 of Pakistan’s Penal Code (Blasphemy laws) inherently violates international standards of freedom of religion and belief.”

The report indicated, “These laws sets severe punishment including death or life imprisonment, moreover, accusers are not required to present the evidence that blasphemy occurred which leads to false accusations. Mostly cases of blasphemy ware occurred in Punjab; at least 40 individuals are currently sentenced to death or serving life imprisonment on blasphemy charges including two Christians Anjum Naz Sandhu and Javed Naz, while Asia Bibi was sentenced to death In 2010.There are dozens of cases of arrests or charges against blasphemy in Punjab during reporting period,, these charges/arrests occurred, in an atmosphere of societal harassment and violence…In Jan 2017, an anti-terrorism court acquitted more than 100 suspects accused of participating an mob attack on a Joseph Colony [Christian Colony in Lahore] in 2013. There are many blasphemy related cases in which people are punished like Mumtaz Qadri and five others involved in killing of Shahzad and Shama Masih In 2014. In August 2016, Pakistan Senate Committee on Human Rights announce lo review the blasphemy laws and Pakistan Council of Islamic ideology also asked government to refer the case of blasphemy to it for review, no progress on such cases is in the notice of USCIRF. Ahmadi’s are subject to most sever Segal restriction and suffered from officially sanctioned discrimination. The 2nd Amendment of Pakistan’s Constitution declared the Ahmadi’s as non-Muslims and Section 298 of Pakistan Panel Code makes its criminal for Ahmadis to refer themselves as Muslim. In January 2016, an Ahmadi Abdul Shakoor and a Shia Mazhar Sipra were sentenced to Five years imprisonment on blasphemy and terrorism charges by an anti-terrorism court. Ahmadi’s are frequently faced societal discrimination, harassment and physical attacks some time resulting in murder,, during Jan 2016, three Ahmadi doctors were shot dead in Karachi. Provincial text books are also having discriminatory contents against minorities and highlighted in USCIRF report issued In April 2016. Text books depicts non-Muslim Pakistani’s as non-Pakistani or sympathetic towards Pakistan‘s perceived enemies, Christian as British/Western and Pakistani Hindus as Indians.”

The report further added, “Forced conversion of Hindus, Christian girls and young women into Islam…marriage remains a systematic problem. According to Aurat Foundation and Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan‘s report of 2004, about 1000 girls are forcibly converted into Islam each year. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, about 50 domestic and transnational terrorist/extremist groups are active in Pakistan and posed serious threat to the country, people/ its minorities. Government of Pakistan took some positive steps including 16 points Human Rights Action Plan, passing of criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2016 and initiation of a pilot project by Punjab Government of Engaging Pakistani Interfaith Communities (EPIC) in Jan 2017. Pakistan had played a critical and complicated role in US efforts to combat Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorist groups. US is continuously engaged with Pakistan in areas of economy, trade, energy, security, strategic stability, non-proliferation, law enforcement, education, democracy and countering violent extremism/terrorism. Human Rights and Religious Freedom did not remain high priority in US-Pakistan bilateral relations.”

However, USCIRF report is quite opposite to the facts. All the minorities enjoy religious freedom in Pakistan. In this regard, besides India the festival of Diwali or Deepavali is also being celebrated in Pakistan, as tens of thousands of Hindus are living in this country and like other religious minorities, they enjoy all the rights as the citizens of Pakistan. Especially, in Sindh, Muslims also participate in Diwali celebrations and give gifts sweets and flowers to their Hindus friends.

It may be recalled that during the PPP government, August 11 was official declared National Minorities Day by the former President Asif Ali Zardari in 2009 in line with the historic speech of founder of the nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. In his speech, Quaid-e-Azam said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

There have been numerous non-Muslims who have risen to the rank of Brigadier; and in the 1990, the first Christian promoted to the Rank of Major General was Julian Peter who commanded the 14th Div in Okara Cantt. Capt. Hercharn Singh, the first Sikh as Commissioned Officer in Pakistan Army. Particularly, a Rana Bhagwandas was the first Hindu and the non-Muslim who was appointed acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan for a few days in 2005 and 2006, during the absence of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from the country. He was again appointed as acting Chief Justice of Pakistan during the judicial crisis in 2007. After retirement from the Supreme Court, Bhagwandas was appointed as the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) chairman in November 2009.

Besides minority groups are not only serving in the armed forces, but are also working in other departments. Without any discrimination by the Muslims, they also run their own business and are working in private sectors.

However, in the same speech, Quaid-e-Azam said, “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between ones caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens of one state.”

It is mentionable that in accordance with the vision of Quaid-e-Azam, the Constitution of 1973 protects the real rights and interest of minorities, living in Pakistan.

Every year, on August 11, Pakistan officially celebrates the National Minorities Day to honour the services and sacrifices, rendered by religious minorities for the country over the years. This very day also recognizes the contribution and sacrifices of minorities in creation of Pakistan and nation-building.

On this occasion, events, seminars and social gatherings are arranged across the country by members of various religious minorities and the ministry of National Harmony.

Shahid Mairaj, the Dean of the Cathedral stated in his message, on August 11, 2015 stated, “The governing principle is to let people of every faith live in peace as they choose, and understand that the state belongs to everyone. This country is our mother, and it is a duty for all of us to help it to advance and flourish.”

In this regard, Member Punjab Assembly and minorities’ leader Najmi Saleem remarked, “Minorities in Pakistan have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens”.

Minister In-charge for National Harmony Dr. Paul Bhatti said, “The Minorities Day provides us an opportunity to renew the pledge for the promotion of tolerance and interfaith harmony as in a pluralistic society, there can always be a divergence of opinion on a number of issues, but these differences can be solved through interfaith harmony which means a cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religions, traditions, faiths, and spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at all levels.”

He acknowledged by pointing out, “Many steps have been taken by the Government for the protection and promotion of minorities like the reservation of 5 percent quota in Government jobs/services, enhancement representation in the parliament, declaration of August 11 as the Minorities Day, including observance of optional holidays and celebration of the festivals of minorities at official level”.

A Sikh leader, Sardar Bishan Singh shared similar thoughts and pointed out that all citizens of Pakistan worked together for the growth of the country.

It is notable that the Ministry of National Harmony was formed after the devolution of Ministry of Minority Affairs to acknowledge the sacrifices and services of minorities to promote peace, patience and tolerance for creating an understanding and brotherhood among the people of different schools of thought.

Nevertheless, since the formation of Pakistan, minorities are contributing in every sphere of life and their political involvement is also worth appreciating.

But, it is regrettable that as part of the double game, in the recent years, with the support of anti-Pakistan terror groups such as Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), Jundullah, TTP, ISIS, including their affiliated outfits like Lashkar-i-Janghvi which claimed responsibility for various terrorism-related assaults in Pakistan, massacred many persons through suicide attacks, bomb blasts, targeted killings and sectarian violence. Secret agencies such as American CIA, Israeli Mossad and especially, Indian secret agency RAW which have well-established their network in Afghanistan arranged a number of terror-attacks on Ahmadis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus, including their places of worship in order to distort the image of Pakistan abroad. These foreign- backed terrorist groups are also behind the recent terror attacks in Pakistan.

In this context, investigations showed that especially RAW was behind these subversive acts. In fact, besides other terror attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Balochistan, Punjab and Karachi, in the recent years, the foreign-backed terror groups also targeted Hindus in the Sindh province to defame Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Armed Forces have, successfully, broken the backbone and organized capability of the foreign-backed terrorists to launch well thought-out attacks against the government assets through the successful military operation Zarb-e-Azb which has also been extended to other provinces of the country. While, Pakistan’s law-enforcing agencies, especially primary intelligence agency, ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants, while thwarting a number of terror attempts. But, the new wave of terrorism which started in the beginning of this year, having connection in Afghanistan has, again, enveloped Pakistan.

Although terrorists have again started subversive activities, yet these are on small scale, as compared to the past, because the main networks of various militant outfits have been broken by the ongoing military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad.

Terrorism will finally be totally eliminated from Pakistan. It appears, as if the militants have lost major grounds, and in severe frustration, they are trying to create some kind of so-called pressure on the government and the Armed Forces which have castigated them to put up strong resistance.
On the other side, India which apparently, claims to be the largest democracy, acting upon the principles of liberalism and secularism has broken all the records of violence, genocide and massacre perpetrated on various ethnic and religious groups, particularly Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, entailing the community of its own lower castes.

Since the leader of the ruling party BJP Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India, various developments like unprecedented rise of Hindu extremism, persecution of minorities even of lower cast-Hindus, forced conversions of other religious minorities into Hindus, ban on beef and cow slaughter, inclusion of Hindu religious books in curriculum, attacks on the Muslims, Pakistani artists, etc. clearly show that encouraged by the Hindu fundamentalist groups such as BJP, RSS VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena, including other similar parties have been promoting religious and ethnic chauvinism in India by propagating ideology of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). Especially, assaults on Christians and Muslims including their places of worships and property have been intensified by the fanatic Hindu mobs.

Hindu fundamentalism is on rise and influencing the India society to the dungeon of destruction. The hate campaign unleashed by the fundamentalist forces is keeping the minority group in India wholly pre-occupied with defending their basic human rights and cultural identities.

Plight of all the minorities in India—bracing maltreatment, regression and brutalities at the hands of extremists in India has exposed the true face of so-called secular and democratic India.

Showing fraught and fraud of the Indian judicial system, in the recent past, a verdict by Indian special court over Gulberg, Ahmedabad Gujarat incident is sham—an eye wash to give a face saving space to the Prime Minister Modi during his interaction with USA legislature, during his visit to the US.

Instances of Hinduized police and the biased judiciary is related to many cases such as Gujarat pogroms, Sikh riots, violence against Christians, Dalits and other minorities whose cases are still unregistered-pending or unheard, while in many cases culprits have been exonerated.

As regards the rise of Hindu extremism, RSS philosophy and politics prevail over the country in wake of rise of religious extremism against the Muslims and other minorities. New Delhi has availed this golden opportunity, particularly not only in persecution of Indian Muslims, but also against Pakistan.

Here questions arises that when the US and other Western countries are intolerant and abhorrent of the terrorist outfits like ISIS (Daesh) etc. due to their extremists practices and barbarity to humanity, then why Hindu fundamentalist groups like RSS, including Hindu extremist activist Modi who is involved in ethnic cleansing of Muslim minority, being accorded a red carpet or cardinal’s treatment in America. However, it shows double standards of the rulers of the US and some other Western countries who are silent over Hindu terrorism, as they took no practical action against New Delhi.

As a matter of fact, as part of the double game, Pakistan has become special target of the US-led India and Israel, including some Western countries. CIA, RAW and Mossad have been supporting various kinds of terror attacks, including hostage-takings in various cities of the country, while supporting separatist elements in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces. These agencies are using the terrorists to destabilize Tibetan regions of China, Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan by arranging the subversive activities. In this regard, CPEC project is their main target.

Again, it mentioned that, RAW is also conducting terror assaults in Pakistan. But, as part of the dual strategy, CIA, RAW and Mossad are in connivance with the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) and other terrorist groups. With latest capture of six NDS supported terrorists in Balochistan, the number of NDS backed terrorists arrested and killed by Pakistani intelligence agencies has crossed over 126. These external secret agencies are particularly supporting the TTP which is hiding in Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan. Reportedly, Mullah Fazlullah led TTP was being prepared to carry out a fresh wave of terror activities inside Pakistan, as the latter has become center of the Great Game owing to the ideal location of Balochistan.

Unlike India, where religious minorities are being targeted by the Hindu fundamentalist groups, all the minorities such as Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists enjoy fundamental rights in Pakistan, including all other rights of citizenry in Pakistan.

Pakistan which came into existence on the basis of Islamic principles to provide respect and protection to all the segments of society is giving full safety to all the religious minorities as mentioned in the Constitution.

Overtly, American high officials remark that they seek stability in Pakistan, but covertly, they continue to destabilize it, especially with the assistance of India.

In this connection, terror attacks coincide with a continued propaganda campaign against Pakistan. Hence, USCIRF annual report of 2017 on religious freedom is part of the similar propaganda against Pakistan, while including other countries like India as a formality.

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