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.
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.”
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