ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Thursday expressed its deep concern and disappointment over being included as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” by what it said was the US State Department’s unilateral and arbitrary designation, and said it had conveyed its concerns to the US government.
“This pronouncement is detached from the ground realities of Pakistan. Pakistan has a multi-religious and pluralistic society with a rich tradition of inter-faith harmony. Religious freedom and protection of rights of minorities are guaranteed in the Constitution and enforced through a range of legislative, policy and administrative measures,” said the Foreign Office.
In fact, eyebrows were raised and, in fact, there were many in India itself who were surprised when the US did not include India in this group. On Wednesday night, the US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told the media when asked why India had been spared, replied, “Secretary Blinken, given the totality of the facts and the circumstances, determined that religious freedom concerns in India do not warrant a Country of Particular Concern designation or placement on the Special Watch List.” However, he added, “But of course, these are conversations that we continue to have with our Indian partners and with partners around the world.”
For the last three years, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has demanded that because of widespread discrimination against religious minorities, India should also be put on the violators list. USCIRF is a bipartisan agency of the US Federal Government, which monitors religious freedom across the globe and recommends various actions against the violators. In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that India be designated a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of religious freedom.
The report noted that in 2022, religious freedom conditions in India remained poor. During the year, the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels continued to promote and enforce policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships and cow slaughter that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis.
These points were reflected in a comment by the Foreign Office here when it noted, “We have also noted with deep concern and disappointment that India, the biggest violator of religious freedom, has once again not been included in the State Department’s designation list despite clear recommendation by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This conspicuous omission raises serious questions about the credibility and transparency of the entire process and makes it a subjective and discriminatory exercise.”
Pakistan underlined that international concerns over India’s treatment of religious minorities have been the subject of several hearings of the US Congress and reports of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Meanwhile, at the weekly media briefing, the spokeswoman announced the upcoming visit of Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Hissein Brahim Taha to Pakistan from 11-12 December 2022. This will be his first country visit to Pakistan since assuming office in November 2021.
“The secretary general will call on the prime minister and hold delegation level meeting with the foreign minister. He will also visit Azad Jammu and Kashmir,” she said.
Issues on the agenda of OIC, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, Islamophobia and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, will be discussed. It will also be an opportunity to exchange views on economic, social and technological cooperation among the OIC member countries.
As a founding member of OIC and the current Chair of the Council of Foreign Ministers, Pakistan will continue to promote Islamic solidarity, unity and dialogue.
The spokeswoman also commented on the foreign minister’s participation in the International Conference on Afghan Women Education where he spoke on the importance of education for women and their participation in decision-making. Pakistan also announced scholarships for the deserving Afghan students.
He underlined the need for concrete and practical assistance programs benefiting all sections of the society. He also reiterated Pakistan’s strong support for the well-being and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan.
Earlier in the morning, the foreign minister attended the 15th Bali Democracy Forum. Established in 2008, BDF aims to create a progressive democratic architecture in Asia Pacific. Pakistan last attended the Bali Democracy Forum at the level of the Foreign Minister in 2011.
At the Forum, the foreign minister stressed the need for democracies to reinvent themselves to be more responsive to the needs of their people. He called for reform of international financial institutions and underscored the importance of democracies in developing countries to collaborate in responding to common challenges.
The foreign minister has held a meeting with his counterpart from Indonesia Retno Marsudi. This was their second meeting this year. They earlier met in Cambodia in August on the sidelines of ARF Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The two foreign ministers reviewed the state of bilateral relations and agreed to further strengthen bilateral dialogue at all levels and pursue mutually beneficial cooperation. As the two largest Islamic countries, Pakistan and Indonesia will maintain dialogue on matters relating to the OIC and global and regional issues of mutual interest.
The two foreign ministers have signed a landmark MoU on establishment of a Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) at the foreign minister level. JMC will oversee mutually-beneficial cooperation and promote regular bilateral engagement.
In Bali, the foreign minister has also held a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina Dr. Bisera Turkovic. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed Pakistan’s desire to further strengthen bilateral engagement with Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The foreign minister will fly to Singapore Thursday night for the second leg of his East Asia visit. There he will meet Foreign Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan and President Halimah Yacob.
During these meetings, the foreign minister will emphasise the importance accorded by Pakistan to its relations with Singapore, a key partner in ASEAN. The two sides will discuss cooperation in diverse areas and measures to add momentum to bilateral relations. The visit of the foreign minister to Indonesia and Singapore reflects Pakistan’s keen desire to deepen its engagement with ASEAN countries.