Author : Sushant Sareen

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 11, 2020
Religious persecution: Free pass for Pakistan Pakistan has known for long that it has a serious image problem. It enjoys notoriety as a country which is a safe haven for all kinds of terrorists, a state that is mixed up with export of terrorism outside and encourages radical Islamism inside, a society that is deeply bigoted and sanctions the persecution of religious minorities, a hybrid polity in which political dissent is crushed, media is muzzled, and governments are ‘selected’ by the military, not elected by the masses. Simply put, for all its pretensions of changing its spots, Pakistan is no poster boy of liberal and secular values. As a country, state and society, Pakistan is a place which neither respects and tolerates different faiths, nor defends religious freedoms of minorities. And it is certainly not a place where human rights (including the right to freedom of expression and dissent), and political rights of citizens are protected. Year after year, the egregious assaults on religious minorities and their persecution have been documented by organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). For instance, in its latest report on the state of human rights in Pakistan, HRCP states: “religious minorities remained unable to enjoy the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed to them under the constitution. For the Ahmadiyya community in Punjab, this included the desecration of several sites of worship. Both the Hindu and Christian communities in Sindh and Punjab continued to report cases of forced conversion. In Punjab, girls as young as 14 were forcibly converted and coerced into marriage.” The report goes on to add that “in recent years, however, the people from minority religions have been facing persecution, and the Hindu community is feeling insecure and vulnerable as they face antagonism and mob attacks over allegations of blasphemy. Kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls are the main complaints of the Hindu community in Sindh.” According to one report published five years ago, around 1,000 girls are forcibly converted in Pakistan every year, some of them in their pre-teens. Since then things have only deteriorated, so much so that the Pakistani superior judiciary partakes in, succumbs to, and facilitates this activity. The case of Rinkle Kumari who was thrown to the wolves by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, and recently a similar action by the Islamabad High Court in which the judges and the amicus curiae (all supposedly defenders of human rights) handed over two sisters who had been kidnapped and forcibly converted to their abductors. While there is a continuum in the persecution of minorities taking place since Pakistan came into existence, the record of the Imran Khan government on rights of religious minorities is particularly bad. Reports like that of HRCP highlight the problem but are unable to capture the sheer magnitude of inequities and indignities heaped on minorities in Pakistan every day. The HRCP, for example, mostly regurgitates press reports, which in turn only touch the tip of the iceberg of religious persecution in Pakistan, which since its inception has functioned like the Islamic State while pretending to be an Islamic Republic. The recent overdrive of the media corps of the Pakistani military establishment to whitewash the image of the state and society by managing perceptions do not however hide the reality of a state in which the so-called independent media has been crushed under the combined assault of the military jackboot and its political collaborators who are supplanted in government through a tainted electoral process. Nor does it hide the subservience of the judiciary and the complicity, even obsequiousness, of the so-called civil society on which so many in India so touchingly seem to place so much faith. Despite its terrible reputation for being a virtual hellhole for religious minorities, Pakistan has always been given a free pass by the West. The so-called liberals in the West might insincerely cluck in disapproval over what happens in Pakistan, but they have never really exerted to hold Pakistan to account. Until 2018, the US government didn’t even feel the need to designate Pakistan as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) where there is a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” This was mostly because of political and strategic reasons. And even after Pakistan was designated as a CPC, the US State Department has been issuing waivers against any possible sanctions being imposed on Pakistan. Not only the US, even the Europeans, who are far more preachy than the Americans, have year after year looked the other way on the horrible crimes that the Pakistani state and society have visited on religious minorities. The GSP+ status that the EU granted Pakistan after the 2010 floods clearly laid out that Pakistan had to conform to 27 treaties and conventions related to human rights and labour conditions. Pakistan has, however, not delivered in any meaningful manner on any of these treaties. Even if it has signed on some of these treaties, it has observed its obligations more in their violation. And yet, the EU has extended the GSP+ every year. It is almost as if the West has conceded some kind of exceptionalism to the Islamic State (pun entirely intended) of Pakistan. No surprise then that the Pakistani state and society feels they are entitled to mistreat and persecute minorities without any fear of any consequences from the international community. Such is the chutzpah of the Pakistanis that their ‘selected’ Prime Minister, Imran Khan, sees absolutely no irony in playing victim and lamenting about Islamophobia in the world when in fact it is Pakistan which perpetrates the most dastardly  crimes against defenceless religious minorities. The state of religious minorities can be measured on one simple metric: is there an exodus of minorities within and from a country? In the case of Pakistan, most religious minorities – Hindus, Hazara Shias, Christians, Ahmadiyas – are voting with their feet and trying to find security outside Pakistan. The reason for this is staring everyone in the face. There is a culture of impunity that has developed over the years on hunting, hounding and harassing religious minorities. While all Pakistani political parties partake in being hand-in-glove with the Islamofascists who carry out attacks, none is more hypocritical about this than Imran Khan and his party. Other mainstream parties have at least the shame to understand that those living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others. But not Imran Khan or his PTI. He obviously believes that the louder he shouts and the more ridiculous his rhetoric, the more he will be able to peddle the falsehoods he spouts, and in the process also hide his own Islamofascist proclivities. Some of Imran Khan’s favourite courtiers are among the most notorious hate-mongers in Pakistan. His minister of state for parliamentary affairs is a man by the name Ali Mohammad Khan who has absolutely no compunctions in openly calling for the beheading of blasphemers. He is so ‘enlightened’ and represents such a liberal face that he opposed a bill against child marriage by calling it un-Islamic. Another ‘enlightened’ luminary with openly fascist tendencies in Imran Khan’s cabinet is Faisal Vawda who both in a TV talk show and in parliament wanted that “corrupt and money-launderers should be tied and dragged behind a vehicle before being hanged”, and called for the hanging of 5,000 people to change the fate of Pakistan – a classic fascist solution because according to him if it was done legally, it wouldn’t be possible. Another favourite of Imran Khan is a foul-mouthed man by the name of Fayyazul Hasan Chohan. In March 2019 he was sacked from the Punjab provincial cabinet after he passed extremely derogatory remarks against the Hindus. At that time, one of Imran’s closest cronies declared that “PTI govt will not tolerate this nonsense from a senior member of the government or from anyone.” His sacking wasn’t because Imran Khan disapproved of his Hindu-phobic remarks but because these remarks blew holes in the fake narrative Imran Khan was trying to build against India. But nine months later when things had cooled down, Chohan was reinstated in the Punjab cabinet. Apart from ministers, Imran Khan’s party is filled with hate-mongers, many of whom he himself has sought out and enrolled in his party, who openly have called for killing of minorities, have been in the vanguard of forced conversions and kidnappings of young Hindu girls and who have openly insulted Hindus. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that for all his virtue signalling about minority rights and campaign to milk the Kartarpur corridor for strategic image building, Imran Khan has maintained deafening silence on forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls. His own endorsement, even admiration, for the rough and ready ‘justice’ of the Taliban, and his defence of the Taliban’s murderous jihad which killed thousands of people and imposed medieval punishments on people – Imran Khan himself was so inspired by Taliban that at one time he even called for hanging people publicly – earned him the moniker of ‘Taliban Khan’. He is the same person who supported the rabidly anti-Ahmediya Barelvi radical Islamists (partly under the influence of his wife – Pinki Pirni – and partly out of his own proclivity for radical Islamism) the Tehrik-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) during the infamous Faizabad Dharna in 2018. And even as Prime Minister, he did not have the courage to back a renowned Ahmediya economist who had been picked for the Economic Advisory Council. Worse, he couldn’t even tolerate the presence of an Ahmediya on the eyewash Minorities Commission that has recently been set up to fool the West. It is almost as if the Ahmediyas don’t have a right to exist. It is quite clear that Pakistan has been given a free pass on its scandalous treatment of minorities for far too long. For the international community to turn a blind eye to Pakistan's depredations against the hapless minorities is indeed not just cynical but also unconscionable. Pakistan must be held to account if human rights, minorities rights and political rights of people matter. Otherwise, the West should end the charade of standing up for civil liberties and rights of religious minorities.
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Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen

Sushant Sareen is Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. His published works include: Balochistan: Forgotten War, Forsaken People (Monograph, 2017) Corridor Calculus: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor & China’s comprador   ...

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