Fire and fury of religious freedom


Pakistan has missed out on being designated by the US State Department a Country of Particular Concern. The latter refers to Washington’s annual pinpointing of “governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”. Thus we have had to make do with the bottom-notch placing on a Special Watch List “for severe violations of religious freedoms”. Too bad.
We say this not to be flippant. But given that this announcement coincided with the seventh death anniversary of Salmaan Taseer, the then sitting Governor of Punjab who was assassinated over his staunch defending of the country’s minorities — we would have hoped for a bit more gumption from our frenemies over in Washington. Especially after all that dreadful business with Captain (rtd) Safdar and his anti-Ahmadi vitriol. For we haven’t forgotten how he took to the National Assembly floor, no less, to call for a ban on this community from entering Pakistan’s armed forces and other key posts before declaring this beleaguered group “enemies of the nation”.
Thus we are disappointed that the US hasn’t taken a harder line against the right-wing religious agenda that brought the state to its knees at the end of last year. Ditto when it comes to the militant-mainstreaming project. But more than anything, we are overwhelmingly discouraged by the timing of the watch list shout-out. Naturally we understand that it is routine for such ‘classifications’ to come at this time; that is, after offering a review of different countries’ performances over the previous year. But given the ongoing fracas surrounding the most recent Trump Twitter storm — the Pakistani state has responded in the way that we all knew it would. It has dismissed the entire episode of the listing as being politically motivated. And while there is likely quite a bit of truth in this contention — the fallout is that the rights of the country’s minorities have now been firmly linked to an American ‘plan’ to destabilise Pakistan. This simply won’t do.