By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – “The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries,” said a U.S. State Department official in response to releasing a “Special Watch List” for religious freedom violations. Pakistan was one of 10 nations placed on the list.

This designation comes after a 2017 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The report found issues with the blasphemy law under which at least 40 people are serving death or life sentences. The Pakistani government reportedly failed to protect terrorist and societal violence against Ahmadis and Shia Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. There are concerns over forced religious conversions for women.

However, the report did mention that the Pakistani government was taking some “encouraging gestures toward religious minorities.” The full report can be read here.  The U.S. government also found issue with Pakistan providing safe havens for terrorists.

Pakistan’s officials reject the placement of their country on this list. They believe that the placement is based on objective criteria as they have spent $120 billion over 15 years fighting terrorism. They will proceed forward by requesting a clarification on the rationale and implications.  Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. hopes that the two countries can continue constructively talking through this confusion to prevent instability in the region.

Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry of Pakistan. Photo courtesy of Natalie Liu.

In the meantime, the U.S. will decrease the amount of aid and suspend security assistance in the amount of $255 million to Pakistan

Tensions have been increasing between the two countries of late. Some analysts suggest that this timing is ‘very ominous.’ Bharath Gopalaswamy of Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center says, “…this is a reflection of the overall frustration of the United States with Pakistan.”

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – US Places Pakistan on ‘Special Watch List’ for Severe Violations of Religious Freedoms – 5 January 2018

Reuters – U.S. places Pakistan o watch list for religious freedom violations – 4 January 2018

Al Jazeera – US places Pakistan on religious-freedom watch list – 5 January 2018

U.S Department of State – Designations Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 – 4 January 2018

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – Pakistan – 2017 

Author: Katherine Hewitt

Katherine Hewitt is a first year Masters of Arts in International Affairs candidate in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She is pursuing a concentration in Peace, Security, and Conflict. Her interests lie in ethnic conflicts, particularly in the Post-Soviet Sphere. She expects to graduate in December 2018.