Pakistan: US allegation of religious freedom violations ‘has no merit’

Sardar Muhammed Yousaf
Updated 09 January 2018
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Pakistan: US allegation of religious freedom violations ‘has no merit’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has rejected a US allegation that the country’s religious freedom track record is tainted, claiming it reflected Washington’s “double standard” and showed “political motives” that lacked credibility.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs comments on Friday came a day after Pakistan was placed on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom.”
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sardar Muhammed Yousaf rejected America’s claim and said “everyone can practice their religion freely,” slamming the US designation as smear campaign “propaganda to malign Pakistan” internationally.
Yousaf told Arab News on Saturday that designating Pakistan as a violator of religious freedom further damaged bilateral relations between the countries. He added that the US “is shifting its responsibility for failure onto Pakistan” after losing the fight in Afghanistan and out of frustration is making baseless charges against the country.
“We celebrate non-Muslim traditions on a state level with the Prime Minister and President attending the celebrations such as Christmas or Diwali, therefore the US allegation has no merit,” said Yousaf, pointing to the 1973 Constitution which protects religious rights and freedom.
His remarks follow the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance by the Trump administration.
The surprise move “was not a planned policy” wrote C. Christine Fair, a distinguished associate professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program within the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, in an article on Monday.
She argues Washington’s decision is justified, asserting that Pakistan took US taxpayers’ money and handed it to terrorists, adding “there is still space for further escalation short of conflict” and that sanctions could be applied.
On Thursday, Heather Nauert, a US State Department spokesperson, announced that the US would freeze nearly all security aid to Pakistan until “the Pakistani government takes decisive action” against terrorist groups.
Pakistan’s civil-military leadership has repeatedly maintained that payments are “reimbursement” under the Coalition Support Fund for the amount the country had spent in the war against terror.
Following reports that Pakistan’s intelligence had denied US officials access to a terrorist linked to the Haqqani network who was apprehended during the rescue operation of an American-Canadian family in October 2017, Trump lambasted Pakistan in a tweet, accusing it of taking billions from the US and giving “nothing but lies & deceit.” He said that Pakistan was playing a double game by sheltering terrorists that the US was trying to eliminate in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is seeking clarification from the US, surprised by the “new categorization.” The Foreign Office said it is enquiring about the “rationale and implications” of the country’s placement on the freshly constituted watchlist: Pakistan is the first and only country listed in the US Commission on International Religious Freedoms’ annual report.
Pointing to countries with a record of systematic persecution of religious minorities absent from the US list, the Foreign Office added: “The designation overlooks the significant achievements of Pakistan in the area of human rights. Pakistan is firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights including the right of religious freedom, under its constitution.”
However, Islamabad has reaffirmed its commitment to work “with the international community to ensure that internationally agreed standards on religious freedom are observed in Pakistan and the broader region.”
But Fair told Arab News that Pakistan deserved to be on the watch, reasoning that the country’s constitution “does not afford equal rights for Muslims and non-Muslims.”
“Non-Muslims are routinely victimized through the use of Pakistan’s horrific blasphemy law, particularly Christians. The blasphemy law is often used to murder families in an effort to take over their land or businesses. Ahmadis and Shi’a Muslims are murdered wantonly with no consequences for the murders.”
Sufi shrines being attacked and its followers killed, and Hindu girls being “abducted, forced to convert to Islam and married against their will” all constituted religious violations which Pakistan’s “own human rights organizations have remarked upon.”
Analyst and legal expert Feisal Naqvi, who has worked on minority rights cases, explained that Pakistan already had ample laws to protect religious freedom of minorities.
“The only question is that of the implementation and enforcement” of those protection laws,” Naqvi told Arab News. He said that in recent years, public awareness of minority rights “has increased tremendously” and subsequently “protection will also increase.”


League calls on Italians to back coalition deal with 5-Star

League leader Matteo Salvini, top left, said the new PM would be “a professional with indisputable experience.” (ANSA via AP+)
Updated 5 min 21 sec ago
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League calls on Italians to back coalition deal with 5-Star

  • The government “contract” between the League and the anti-establishment 5-Star was published on Friday after 11 weeks of political stalemate in the euro zone’s third-largest economy
  • The ballot is however seen as symbolic and unlikely to upset the delicate political balance between parties that had been seen as unlikely allies

MILAN: The far-right League gave Italians a chance to bless the program it has drawn up with the 5-Star Movement in an informal ballot as the two groups try to decide on a candidate to lead their planned coalition government.
The government “contract” between the League and the anti-establishment 5-Star, the two parties that won the most votes in the March 4 national election, was published on Friday after 11 weeks of political stalemate in the euro zone’s third-largest economy.
The document calls for billions of euros in tax cuts, increased welfare payments for the poor, and the scrapping of a unpopular pension reform.
It is seen by the two parties as the basis for governing for the full five-year legislative term but got a cool reception from the market and politicians elsewhere in Europe.
Unlike an online vote on Friday by supporters of 5-Star, the League set up 1,000 stands across the country over the weekend, with paper ballots listing 10 of the contract’s main points.
“Citizens appreciate when politicians give them a possibility to express their opinion, especially when people have lost their patience and want results,” said Gianluca Boari, a town councillor and volunteer at one of the stands in Milan.
The ballot is however seen as symbolic and unlikely to upset the delicate political balance between parties that had been seen as unlikely allies.

Mixed views
The decision by the two maverick groups to join forces has upset some of their voters but others say they see this as the only solution for the country.
“I don’t like it at all, (League leader Matteo) Salvini should have said ‘No’. What is this? It’s a terrible compromise for the League,” Veneranda Lorenti, a League supporter, said.
More than 90 percent of almost 45,000 members of 5-Star voted in favor of the program on Friday.
But the plans for the financial sector rattled investors as industry leaders said they could stall a clean-up of bank bad debt and derail a tentative recovery.
“I agree with the idea of an anti-establishment government, they should press ahead with stronger policies in the interest of Italy and (against) the European bureaucracies and the financial oligarchies,” Massimo Wailbacher said as he queued up to vote at one of the stands in Milan.
Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said the weekend would be decisive to finalize talks over a candidate for prime minister and to outline the ministers of a future government.
Both have agreed that neither of them would run as candidate for prime minister. Salvini said the person would be “a professional with indisputable experience,” who had helped draw up the program.
“The premier will be more shifted toward the 5-Star, but not their representative,” deputy secretary of the League Lorenzo Fontana said, explaining this was due to the fact that the Movement had won more votes than the League at elections.
The two party leaders are due on Monday to meet President Sergio Mattarella, who must approve the program and has a final say on their nomination for prime minister.