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Pakistan rejects religious designation by US as biased, arbitrary

Taking exception to exclusion of India from list, FO says not only in Pakistan but also in US itself there has been criticism of US State Department’s selectiveness

January 09, 2024
Islamabad Police personnel stand outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad. — AFP
Islamabad Police personnel stand outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday while categorically rejecting Pakistan’s designation as “a Country of Particular Concern” by the US State Department said Pakistan’s concerns about the designation are being conveyed to the US side, and at the same time expressed deep concern that India, the biggest and serial violator of religious freedom was excluded from the list.

The US President is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate each country the government which has engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). “We are deeply dismayed that the designation is based on biased and arbitrary assessment, detached from ground realities. Pakistan is a pluralistic country, with a rich tradition of interfaith harmony. In line with its Constitution, Pakistan has undertaken wide-ranging measures to promote religious freedom and protect minority rights”, said the Foreign Office.

The US International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) defines particularly severe violations as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” including violations such as (1) torture; (2) prolonged detention without charges; (3) forced disappearance; or (4) another flagrant denial of life, liberty, or security of persons. Besides Pakistan, the other countries designated as Countries of Concern include Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Taking exception to the exclusion of India from the list, the Foreign Office said not only in Pakistan but also in the United States itself there has been criticism of the US State Department’s selectiveness. “We note with deep concern that India, the biggest and serial violator of religious freedom, has once again been excluded from the US State Department’s designation list. This is despite clear recommendations by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as well as public concerns raised by international human rights constituencies about India’s maltreatment of religious minorities. This conspicuous omission raises serious questions about the credibility, transparency and objectivity of the entire process”, noted the Foreign Office. Pakistan pointed out that it was convinced that such discriminatory, unilateral and subjective exercises are counterproductive and undermine our shared objective to advance religious freedom globally.

“Pakistan strongly believes that the contemporary challenge of religious intolerance, xenophobia and Islamophobia can be best countered through constructive engagement and collective efforts based on mutual understanding and respect. With a similar spirit, Pakistan has bilaterally engaged US,“ added the Foreign Office. Earlier, Washington pointed out that governments must end attacks on members of religious minority communities and their places of worship, communal violence and lengthy imprisonment for peaceful expression, transnational repression, and calls to violence against religious communities, among other violations that occur in too many places around the world.