Pakistan’s inclusion on the US blacklist of “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom violations has provoked ire in Islamabad, where it was condemned as arbitrary, detached from reality, biased and unfair.
The State Department’s designation of Pakistan is “unilateral and arbitrary,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office said in a statement on Tuesday. “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 law also established the CIRF, which recently drew the ire of India by criticizing New Delhi’s new citizenship rules
The designation is reflective of selective targeting of countries, and thus unlikely to be helpful to the professed cause of advancing religious freedom.
Pakistan was first placed on the list in 2018, accused of engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government-funded body operating separately from the State Department, said it was “particularly gratified” by the designation.
United States Takes Action Against Violators of #ReligiousFreedom & re-designates #Burma, #China, #Eritrea, #Iran, #North Korea, #Pakistan, #SaudiArabia, #Tajikistan, and #Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern. https://t.co/hf6fbmGmsG
— Farahnaz Ispahani فرحناز (@fispahani) December 20, 2019
Washington specifically referenced the case of Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman jailed in 2009 under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and sentenced to death. She was eventually released in 2018 after the Supreme Court voided her conviction.
Despite Bibi’s release, the US did not remove Pakistan’s designation in the 2019 update to the list. Islamabad thus found itself in the same company as China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Myanmar, as well as “entities” such as Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), the Taliban, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
However, Pakistan did manage to avoid sanctions envisioned under the designation, which were waived on grounds of “national interest” – as was also the case with Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
.@StateDept designated ‘Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, as Countries of Particular Concern under the Intl Religious Freedom Act 1998 for … ”systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”’ pic.twitter.com/zgCigXkA21
— Dr Ewelina U. Ochab (@EwelinaUO) December 11, 2018
The US has maintained a religious freedom blacklist under a 1998 law, passed at the peak of the “humanitarian interventionism” by the Clinton administration. The law also established the CIRF, which recently drew the ire of India by criticizing New Delhi’s new citizenship rules.
Though opposed on almost every issue since the 1947 partition, Pakistan and India thus find themselves agreeing that US meddling in their affairs on the pretext of caring about “religious freedom” is unwelcome and worthy of condemnation.
The credibility of this list comes into question when one notes the absence of countries such as India and Israel in the list. India has been participating in the systematic genocide of Muslims, extra judicial killings, communications blackouts, and crackdown on activists. Israel continues on its trajectory of illegal annexation and persecution of Palestinians.
If the US wants to claim credibility then the criteria for inclusion must apply across the board regardless of foreign relations as the list hints at their bias since it notes Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Syria but ignores the human rights abuses committed by their allies.
GVS News Desk with additions from news agencies