On Tuesday 11 December 2018, United States of America degraded Pakistan on the ‘Blacklist of Countries Violating Religious Freedom’. This was a deliberated escalation of a step taken a year earlier to place Pakistan on a ‘Special Watch List’. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bracketed Pakistan amongst ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ in an annual report, implying that the US government is now obliged to exert pressure to end religious freedom violations in Pakistan. He said, “In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs…The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression”. 

Few months ago, Secretary Pompeo had made heavy weather in US obfuscation if and when Pakistan went to IMF for a bailout package. Earlier President Trump and Secretary Pompeo insulting remarks about Pakistan show a clear policy of coercion. India the most favoured ally despite daily violations has been condoned. Pakistan has been singled out not for the love of religious minorities but as a scapegoat for US failures in Afghanistan. Finding a scapegoat and not humanism is the issue. 

The listing has nothing to do with human rights. Had it been so, many international watchdogs would have been louder than Pompeo. Pakistan is a signatory to many international conventions and agreements under United Nations. This is an internal US list used to meet ends of policy.

This regression follows two affirmative initiatives USA seemed to take very recently. President Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Pakistani assistance in Afghan peace talks. Many observers in Pakistan chose to ignore the implied message. Pakistan responded affirmatively but refused to become a hired gun. 

These talks are led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and an American of Afghan Pashtun origin and low credibility with Pakistan and Afghan Taliban. Many stake holders see him as part and not solution to the problem. For over three decades Khalilzad has unsuccessfully shuttled in the region from a representative of UNOCOL to a diplomat with no result. He was also the US envoy in Iraq following the sexed up invasion. 

The latest blacklisting has also killed the euphoria in Pakistan ‘if there was any’ over the olive branch of Commander US Central Command, Lieutenant general Kenneth McKenzie. In the past a similar statement was made by General Joseph Votel on arrival but nothing changed the bottom line. True or false, the US inference that Pakistan is controlling Afghan Taliban prevails and will continue to be lynchpin of US policy in the region. 

Secretary Pompeo’s latest listing has reversed the thaw in Pakistan-US relations that only lasted a few days. This is Realpolitik and in no way normative or humane policy statement.

The demarche from USA has come at a time when Pakistan has made tangible and landmark advances in rights of its religious minorities.  It also indicated how a long held tactical logic can eclipse ground realities. 

The Supreme Court Judgement in Aasia Bibi case is a concise document, rather a thesis with supporting references from the Holy Quran and Hadith manifesting religious tolerance and rights. This landmark decision has set a legal precedence that blocks misuse of blasphemy laws for exploitation. Both the apex court and the government have upheld Aasia Bibi’s right to freedom pending due process of law. 

Following the judicial judgement, Prime Minister Imran Khan made an impromptu address to the nation to forestall violence against Christians. 

The state has come hard on the religious fanatics that incited rebellion, anarchy and hatred in wake of the Supreme Court decision. 

For the past few years the Hindu Raj Katas Temple and its restoration has been in sharp focus of successive governments.  According to Hindu belief, the water pond in Hindu Puranas was created by tears of Lord Shiva. In the Hindu epic poem, Mahābhārata, the temples is believed to be the site where the Pandava brothers spent a significant portion of their exile. Another tradition states that the Hindu deity Krishna laid the foundation of the temple, and put a hand-made shivling in it. Not only the government but also the Supreme Court of Pakistan is pushing the restoration of this Pre Historic Hindu sacred site.  It is a matter of time before it will renew as a place of Hindu devotion and worship.

Hinglaj Mata is a Hindu temple in Hinglaj Lasbela Pakistan, devoted as Shakti Peethas of the Hindu goddess Sati carved inside a mountain on banks of the Hingol River. In the past three decades the site has become extremely popular with Hindus from Pakistan and abroad. Significantly, it has become rallying point of Hindu patriotism for Pakistan. 

Another Hindu temple at Saidpur Islamabad has been restored.

US State Department perhaps chose to ignore recent events in Pakistan. 

Sister Dr Ruth Pfu a Roman Catholic Pakistani missionary was given a state funeral with full military honours. She had dedicated her life to successful eradication of leprosy in Pakistan.

Pope Francis raised the Archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, to the College of Cardinals in Vatican. He is the second Pakistan to be raised to this eminence. The occasion was widely celebrated in Pakistan including an exclusive dinner hosted by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar javed Bajwa in honour of all the bishops in Pakistan.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history many non-Muslims in Pakistan have made it to assemblies and senate on open seats in 2018 elections. 

Opening of Kartarpur Corridor is a historical and significant event. 

In a trend that began a decade ago, Hindu and Sikh boys have begun to enlist as soldiers and officers in armed forces. The services and sacrifices of Christian and Parsee servicemen in Pakistan are etched in gold. In the past decade, there have been three generals who commanded combat divisions. The presence of Hindus in Pakistan’s judiciary and revenue departments is significant.

In the long run, USA will most likely continue the policy of intimidating Pakistan. The perception that President Trump wants to quit the region is false. The flurry of activities is a distraction. The heart of the issue is the desire of a pliant and unstable Pakistan. Every instrument aimed at coercing Pakistan will keep coming to life and put to test. 

It is insignificant whether the Indian government demonises Kartarpur; or USA put Pakistan on a blacklist. What is more important is that non-Muslims in Pakistan feel important and equal citizens. The government and Supreme Court are moving in the right direction. 


The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person