Pakistan has taken some steps to improve the treatment of religious minorities, but serious problems remain, according to the U.S. State Department's latest report on International Religious Freedom.
The report says that during the period studied --July 2005 to July 2006 -- Pakistan's government failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Pakistan's Ahmadiyya community continued to face legal bars to the practice of its faith. In addition, anti-blasphemy laws were often used to intimidate reform-minded Muslims, sectarian opponents and religious minorities, or to settle personal scores. The country's "Hudood Ordinances" imposed elements of Qur'anic law on both Muslims and non-Muslims and discriminated against women. Religious minorities, according to the report, suffered societal discrimination and violence. More than one-hundred people were killed in sectarian violence, including terrorist attacks by Lashkar-I-Jhangvi.
The Pakistani government worked with moderate religious leaders to promote inter-faith understanding, maintained its ban on extremist groups, and continued efforts to reform education and end the teaching of religious intolerance.
In July of this year, President Pervez Musharraf instructed the Council on Islamic Ideology to prepare a revised version of the Hudood Ordinance that eliminates discrimination against women and minorities. President Musharraf ordered the release of all women detained under the current ordinance. He says Pakistanis of good will must unite against extremism:
"We have to fight al-Qaida. We have to fight [the] Taleban. And we have to fight Talebanization, which is more a state of mind. Talebanization is a culture which does not suit any progressive, developing country which wants to move forward." (END ACT) "The best way to fight this common enemy," says President Musharraf, "is to join hands, trust each other, [and] form a common strategy."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says "religious freedom and tolerance" is an essential goal of U.S. policy:
"Through out bilateral relationships, our work in international fora, and our many ongoing discussions on this issue with people around the world, the United States seeks to promote religious freedom and tolerance and build a more peaceful world for the peoples of all faiths."
"Religious freedom is deeply rooted in our principles and our history as a nation," says Secretary of State Rice, "and it is now integral to our efforts to combat terrorism and the ideology of hatred that fuels it."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.