After the US State Department took a ‘unilateral and arbitrary’ decision of keeping Pakistan in its 2019 annual blacklist for religious freedom violations, Islamabad has categorically rejected the move. The country was kept in the list for a second consecutive year.
Nine countries, including Pakistan, remained on the State Department’s annual list of “countries of particular concern” for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”. Sudan is the only nation removed from the blacklist.
Pakistan was designated in 2018 after years of US hesitation over concerns on the treatment of minorities. According to the announcement made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Pakistan’s name featured in the list of countries, which are subject to sanctions over religious liberty.
Responding to the decision, Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) said, “This pronouncement is not only detached from ground realities of Pakistan but also raises questions about the credibility and transparency of the entire exercise. The designation is reflective of selective targeting of countries and thus unlikely to be helpful to the professed cause of advancing religious freedom.”
In a statement, it said that Pakistan is a multi-religious and pluralistic country where people of all faiths enjoy religious freedom under constitutional protections. “All branches — the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary — have made concerted efforts to ensure that all citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of faith, denomination, caste or creed, can profess and practice their religion in full freedom. The higher judiciary of the country has given landmark judgements directing on ensuring the sanctity and security of places of worship of minorities,” it added.
The FO further maintained that Pakistan has also engaged with the international community, including the United States, for better understanding of religious freedom issues. Earlier this year, Senator Samuel Brownback, the US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, was welcomed in Pakistan for dialogue to advance the mutual objectives of religious freedom globally. “It is regrettable that this constructive engagement has been overlooked,” the FO said.
“The subjectivity and bias of the State Department’s designations are further illustrated by the conspicuous omission of India, the biggest violator of religious freedom,” it added.