Pakistan on Monday categorically rejected the U.S. State Department designating it a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department issued a press release on religious freedom designations, declaring Pakistan—as well as China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—as countries of particular concern over “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Subsequently, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had called for a congressional hearing over the State Department’s failure to designate Nigeria and India on the same list, stressing both repeatedly met the legal standard.
“We are deeply dismayed that the designation is based on biased and arbitrary assessment, detached from ground realities,” read the Foreign Office rejoinder, issued by spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch. “Pakistan is a pluralistic country, with a rich tradition of interfaith harmony. In line with its Constitution, Pakistan has undertaken wide-ranging measures to promote religious freedom and protect minority rights,” it continued.
It noted that India had once again been excluded from the designation list despite being “the biggest and serial violator of religious freedom,” against clear recommendations of the USCIRF, “as well as public concerns raised by international human rights constituencies about India’s maltreatment of religious minorities.” The omission, it stressed, raised serious questions about the credibility, transparency and objectivity of the entire process.
“We remain convinced that such discriminatory, unilateral and subjective exercises are counterproductive and undermine our shared objective to advance religious freedom globally,” it said.
“Pakistan strongly believes that the contemporary challenge of religious intolerance, xenophobia and Islamophobia can be best countered through constructive engagement and collective efforts based on mutual understanding and respect. With a similar spirit, Pakistan has bilaterally engaged U.S.,” it said, adding these concerns were being conveyed to the U.S.