Religious Minorities in Pakistan: A Vicious Cycle of Violence and Suppression

Christians in Pakistan

Pakistan was established as a Muslim homeland in South Asia, but it also became home to a portion of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and other religious and ethnic minorities. Since its inception, the minority question has been a persistent issue that has afflicted the nation. Pakistan is heterogeneous on the cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and religious levels. Muslims make up 96.28 percent of the country's population, compared to 1.59 percent for Christians and 1.60 percent for Hindus. Minority factions among Muslims include Shias, Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Bohras. The Shia community comprises approximately 15 to 20 percent of the Muslim population, while the Ahmadiyya community comprises only 0.22 percent. Since many adherents of the Ahmadiyya faith do not publicly identify as Ahmadis out of fear of persecution, this number is readily disputable.

Sadly, Pakistan's minorities have frequently been subjected to discrimination and violence. Extremists have targeted them, accusing them of blasphemy or being Islam's adversaries. In recent years, the situation for Pakistan's minorities has only deteriorated amid political disarray and rising sectarian tensions. Frequently, the government has failed to defend minority communities or hold violent offenders accountable. In some instances, authorities have participated in the persecution of minorities, such as the government's assault on the Ahmadiyya community, which under Pakistani law is considered non-Muslim.

Pakistan denies the existence of a rift caused by the rise of orthodox and fundamentalist groups and the marginalization of minority sects and religions, including Ahmadiyya Muslims, Hazaras, Hindus, and Christians. U.S. designation of Pakistan as a "country of particular concern" for religious freedom violations indicates that minority communities are subjected to widespread persecution and restrictions on religious freedom. In a 2021 report on Human Rights Practices, the US Department of State had previously expressed concerns regarding the treatment of minorities, including Christians and Hindus. Since 1974, Pakistan has prohibited the Ahmadiyya Muslim community from identifying as Muslims, which has resulted in systematic discrimination and harassment. Legislators, diplomats, and institutions in Pakistan have been accused of denying the existence of religious hatred and discrimination while concealing behind a veil of presumptive ignorance. Although some international organizations and officials have raised concerns about the persecution of minority communities in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has denied the allegations and accused the United States of favoritism. Concerned by the lack of attention paid to the grave human rights violations committed against the Ahmadiyya community, UN human rights experts have called for increased efforts to end their ongoing persecution.

Recent events in Pakistan, such as the killing of six teachers on 4th of May 2023, who belonged to the minority community, the demolition of an Ahmadiyya mosque in Mirpur Khas, Sindh, and the murder of a young member of a minority group in Astore, Gilgit Baltistan, are indicative of the suppression of minority rights in the nation. Moreover, the protests by minority communities against false blasphemy cases and forced conversions outside the Lahore press club on April 26, 2023, highlight the issue of pervasive discrimination against minorities.

There is a growing concern about the expanding influence of TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) in Pakistan because the extremist group has a history of targeting them. The TTP is a militant organization responsible for several terrorist attacks in Pakistan, primarily against the state and security forces. However, the group has also subjected Christians, Hindus, Ahmadiyyas, and Hazaras to violence and persecution. Non-Muslims and even some Muslim sects are viewed as enemies by the TTP's extremist ideology, which is based on a distorted interpretation of Islam. The group has committed bombings, shootings, and other acts of violence against minorities, frequently targeting their houses of worship, institutions, and homes. For instance, TTP claimed responsibility for the 2013 attack on a church in Peshawar, which resulted in the deaths of over 80 people, the majority of whom were Christians.

TTP has regained strength in recent years after enduring setbacks at the hands of military operations. The group has established a foothold in areas where state authority is feeble, and it continues to launch attacks against minorities and security forces. This has prompted concerns that the TTP's expanding influence in Pakistan could lead to an increase in violence against already marginalized and vulnerable minorities. The fact that a senator has accused the government of concealing significant developments and negotiating with the TTP, is a clear indication of the precarious situation in Pakistan. In addition, the assault of a POK resident for expressing his opinion on economy which was diverted to an insult religious figure and the subsequent filing of a case against him are additional examples of the lack of freedom of expression in the country.

These incidents portray a bleak picture of the condition of Pakistan's minorities. Minorities continue to endure persecution, violence, and discrimination despite the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and rights. The situation is exacerbated by the government's failure to safeguard minority communities and hold perpetrators accountable.

The Pakistani government must take concrete measures to address the issue of minority persecution in the country. This includes enacting effective laws to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws and forced conversions, protecting minority communities adequately, and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Only through such measures can Pakistan become a society that is genuinely inclusive and tolerant.

The vitriolic attack launched by India's External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, against his Pakistani counterpart, on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, today on 05th May 2023 highlights the ongoing concerns regarding minority suppression in Pakistan. The Shenghai Cooperation Organisation meeting remarks of Jaishankar suggest that Pakistan continues to promote and justify the terrorism industry, which has been responsible for numerous acts of violence and discrimination in and outside the country. The statement is significant as It emphasizes the increasing international pressure on Pakistan to address the issue of minority suppression and limit the influence of extremist groups like the TTP. It also highlights the need for a coordinated and concerted effort on the part of the international community to resolve this pressing issue. Existing concerns regarding the suppression of minorities in Pakistan are alarming, especially in light of the expanding influence of extremist groups like the TTP.

India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's scathing attack on Pakistan's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari demonstrates the urgent need to address this issue and safeguard the rights and liberties of minority communities. Only through a concerted effort by the international community can Pakistan make progress toward a more inclusive and tolerant society.

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