By Matias Perttula
12/17/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – Pakistan has now been designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. Department of State for two consecutive years, and rightly so. The country’s notorious blasphemy laws, along with a lack of justice in many kidnappings and forced marriages of underage Christian and Hindu girls, have been consistent stains on Pakistan’s international image. Radical factions of the majority-Muslim community continue to commit communal and societal violence against religious minority communities.
Whether through societal isolation, economic disempowerment, political disenfranchisement, workplace discrimination, or educational discrimination, religious minorities continue to struggle to thrive in the Pakistani community, hurting their long-term development. Despite this harsh reality, the government of Pakistan has started address these issues.
A parliamentary committee on forced conversions was convened to investigate forced conversions, but doubt remains about the committee’s ability to actually produce the desired change in the country. There is mounting fear that the committee is simply a symbolic gesture and the prospect of change seems hopeless.
The committee has held hearings to gain a deeper understanding of the reality of forced conversions and many witnesses have explained the details of many cases, such as that of Huma Younus. She was kidnapped by the family’s frequently hired driver, Abdul Jabbar, (reportedly at gun point) who forcibly converted her to Islam and married her. She was repeatedly raped by Jabbar and is now reportedly pregnant while still in captivity.
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan reported that there are nearly 1,000 cases a year like Huma’s in Pakistan, most of which do not capture the attention of the press. While the numbers may vary, the reality of the situation is probably far worse.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also announced investigations into forced conversions. This development is a good step in the right direction that not only sends the international community a signal that Pakistan is looking to reform, but it also communicates to the extremist Muslim community that their time of impunity could be coming to an end. Coupled with this development is Pakistan’s move to set up special center to examine forced religious conversions.
While these steps are to be celebrated, the international community and worldwide NGO community should not let up the pressure on Pakistan until more tangible results begin to take root in Pakistani civil society. The gestures are encouraging, but they need to be realized into more than just gestures, but tangible actions.
Nevertheless, Pakistan appears to be moving in the right direction and the world remains hopeful to see what results the steps produce. It will still take years of education and intentional civil society engagement to break decades of repeating cycles of poverty. This means transforming the education system from discriminatory textbooks, moving away from workplace discrimination and economic and political disenfranchisement, and, above all, incorporating Pakistani religious minorities fully into the Pakistan’s society in equal standing with the Muslim-majority community.
Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.