Religious minorities in Pakistan witnessed a tough month while observers warn of even tougher times ahead as Prime Minister Imran Khan vacillates between trying to forge a pluralistic nation and his conservative Islamic beliefs, reports AP.
A Christian was gunned down because he rented in a Muslim neighbourhood in northwest Peshawar, not far from the border with Afghanistan.
Another Christian, pastor Haroon Sadiq Cheeda, his wife and 12-year-old son were beaten by their Muslim neighbours in eastern Punjab and told to leave their village. The attackers screamed “you are infidels.”
“Imran Khan no doubt wants a more tolerant Pakistan, wants more accommodation for minorities, but the problem is he nullifies all of this by empowering extremist elements, so much so that it seems they can dictate to the state,” said Zahid Hussain, analyst and author of two books that track militancy in the region.
The spokesman for Khan’s religious affairs ministry, Imran Siddiqui, dismissed complaints that minorities have reason to be concerned. He said in every religion there are “aggressive” clerics but neither Pakistan nor the prime minister were unduly pressured by them.
The most vulnerable of Pakistan’s minorities are Ahmadis, in Pakistan it is illegal for Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom declared Pakistan a “country of particular concern” in its 2020 report released last month because of its treatment of minorities.
The report said Pakistan would have to end a ban on texts and publications of Ahmadis if it wants to get off the commission’s watch list as well as re-examine the cases of many non-Muslims and Muslims facing blasphemy charges.