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02/01/2021 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – During a weekly news briefing, a spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry stated that Pakistan looks forward to working with the Biden administration, hoping to build on existing bilateral ties as well as address ongoing issues related to Afghanistan. The United States and Pakistan have had a troubled relationship over the years surrounding the war on terror, but both have managed to continue to engage with each other and participated as partners on the war on terror.

Undoubtedly another sore point for the relationship is the U.S. designation of Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) as it pertains to Pakistan’s ongoing difficulty with managing the extremist Islamic elements in society, culture, education, and government that continue to suppress, discriminate, and persecute Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan. Among the chief elements of persecution include the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, ongoing forced conversions, kidnappings of religious-minority girls, and various other forms of communal violence. Crimes against these at-risk religious communities are widely reported on by ICC and other partner organizations. Pakistan’s extremist Islamic elements coupled with centuries of casteism have created a context of increasing vulnerability to those not included in the Muslim majority. Systemic bigotry and destain directed at Christians, Hindus, and others make for a challenging life experience for all non-Muslims in political, civic, economic, and professional areas of life. Opportunities for advancement are intentionally limited and these religious minorities continue to be oppressed into a cycle of hopelessness and poverty.

While the troubles are deep and, in many cases, growing for Pakistan’s religious minorities, the government has taken some steps to deal with the issues. For example, the Pakistani parliament has started a committee investigating the issue of forced conversions that encompasses kidnapping and forged marriages of minority girls. Concerns over whether the committee will actually take concrete steps to deal with the problem overshadow the small glimmer of hope that he committee has given to religious minorities. The other major unsolved problem of the blasphemy law continues to weigh down and stifle the free speech of Christians and religious minorities.

If Pakistan wants to improve relations with the United States, it must deal with the religious bigotry issue that elements of the Muslim community continue to project at Christians and others. The government should ensure that the parliamentary committee investigating the forced conversions take concrete steps to deal with the problem. The Pakistani government should develop an exit strategy for the blasphemy law and address the extremist factions of the Muslim community. The Pakistani education system must revise its school textbooks from religiously discriminatory language. In addition, Muslim leaders must be held accountable for incitements of violence against people allegedly committing blasphemy.

Pakistan is not in a hopeless situation, but legitimate and meaningful progress must be made to deal with the religious discrimination – especially if they seek a stronger relationship with the United States.

For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: [email protected].