WASHINGTON: Two US lawmakers today urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to designate Pakistan as a "country of particular concern" over its "systematic and egregious" violations of religious freedom of minorities.
Congressmen Randy Hultgren and James P McGovern, Co- Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, wrote a letter to Tillerson alleging that the Pakistan government engaged in severe repression of religious freedom for several years, and there are no signs that the repression will lessen or end.
"We should be honest with Pakistan about their failings: the Pakistani government's abuses of religious freedom in its own country only serve to discredit it – and by extension, its partner, the US Â– in the fight against the Taliban, ISIS, the Haqqani network and other extremist terror groups in the region,Â” they said in the letter.
"Absent pressure from the US in the form of a country of particular concern (CPC) designation, there is little reason to believe that the climate for religious freedom will improve in Pakistan,Â” the two lawmakers wrote.
Designating Pakistan as a CPC is not just a moral imperative, it is a legally-mandated one under International Religious Freedom Act, and it can only enhance US credibility around the world as a defender of religious freedom and opponent of extremist violence, they said.
"These are not isolated instances, but are due to intrinsic failings of Pakistani legal and governmental systems that have continued unabated across multiple governments and under various ruling parties for decades, with no major politicians within Pakistan willing to forcefully advocate for changing the status quo,” the letter said.
The lawmakers said the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has been advocating for designating Pakistan as a CPC since 2002, noting recently that the government of Pakistan continues "to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations." Religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country's blasphemy and anti- Ahmadiyya laws, continue to result in prosecutions and imprisonments, they said.
They also noted that religious minority communities are subject to sectarian violence, and that the Pakistani government's longstanding failure to prevent or prosecute such violence has created a deep-rooted climate of impunity that has emboldened extremists.
In a report released this year, the Pew Research Center said that over an eight-year period Pakistan is one of a small group of countries that Â“stand out as having the most restrictions on religion...When both government restrictions and religious hostilities are taken into account,Â” the letter pointed out.
Last month, six influential Senators had urged Tillerson to designate Pakistan as a "country of particular concern" on the issue of religious freedom violation, saying its discriminatory laws continue to result in prosecution of individuals due to their faith.
In the letter to Tillerson, who recently concluded a visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the bipartisan group of Senators had said that the State Department should designate Pakistan as a CPC as long recommended by US Commission on International Religious Freedom.