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Musharraf government bettered religious freedom, says US official
The Peninsula Online ( Qatar )

WASHINGTON : The United States is not going to impose any economic sanctions on Pakistan despite recommendations by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in view of its findings that the state of religious freedom in Pakistan is discriminating and below the international protocols.

The USCIRF has suggested the State Department to impose sanctions on three countries, Uzbekistan , Turkmenistan and Pakistan .

“We are closely watching the situation of religious freedom in Pakistan , however few positive developments lately have given breathing space and we feel that things can improve,” said a State Department official Thursday.

The USCIRF was created under the 1998’s International Religious Freedom Act of the US to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience and religion/belief abroad as defined in the universal declaration of human rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and the congress.

However, it has an advisory role and its recommendations are not binding for the State Department. On the contrary, the recommendations of the International Religious Freedom Wing of the State Department have more serious effects. The wing is due to publish its annual report in the first week of October.

The official explained “we draw a line on violence and we think the governments have responsibility for protecting their minorities. The governments failing to fulfill their responsibilities are of great concern to us. Similarly, we do believe that you cannot sacrifice religious freedom for fighting terrorism.”

The official, while describing the situation in Pakistan , said: “We understand that the issue whether Ahmedis are Muslims or not is of great concern in Pakistan , but still we feel they should have the right to worship according to their will. It is under the UN conventions that you ought to have a free atmosphere for free worship. So we think they should be allowed to practice their religion freely,” he said.

“We also have concerns over the Hasba bill of the Islamist alliance MMA and we have conveyed our concerns to the Musharraf establishment. The US has also talked to the leadership of the MMA to convey our concerns over the Hasba bill,” he added.

“We have studied the controversial legislation and we believe it will infringe the religious lives of the people in the NWFP. We will continue discussing this with the Pakistan government and the MMA leadership,” he said.

“We don’t want to impose sanctions on Pakistan at this time because we think that developments have been positive lately. The Musharraf government is heading in the right direction. Especially amendments to the Hudood law are a positive step. Similarly, the blasphemy law is widely misused in Pakistan and we have a great concern over it too.”

However, the official made it clear that if the situation got worse, the State Department reserved the right to impose sanctions during the year at any time.

He said the State Department was closely investigating a case in which a Christian family was forced for bonded labor for being Christians. “We will study the case of cricketer Yousaf Youhana’s conversion. If it’s with his will, it’s all right, but if it’s a forced conversion, it’s a matter of concern.”

The senior official of the State Department said: “We declare countries of great concern and then it’s the right of the Secretary of the State to decide on sanctions. Eight countries have been declared countries of concern so far, including China , Burma , Vietnam , Iran , North Korea , Sudan and Eritrea .”