What are the current challenges that are faced by Pakistan’s religious minorities? What can be done to promote a religious freedom that protects the rights of all Pakistani’s to freely believe as they wish, act on those beliefs, and participate in all of life?
To see all posts in this series visit: Pakistan: Religious Identity and Religious Freedom
While freedom of expression was a basis of separation of the territory we now recognize as Pakistan from India, religious intolerance has plagued the nation. Religious minorities have been targeted and limited in expression.
The real question is, what has caused the growth of hatred and unacceptance in a nation born from the struggle for freedom?
One the greatest causes of domestic intolerance is the growing foreign involvement. Countries such as Saudi Arabia use Pakistan as a gateway to the region. Pakistan is a dominant hegemony in the region, and its natural and nuclear resources make it a valuable ally.
A lack of diversity within the government has limited the cultural and religious involvement in domestic policy. The extremist Wahhabi ideology that unifies elite members of the government not only does not recognize the existence of variation in belief systems, but it also dehumanizes them. Anyone that deviates from the single religious belief system is not worthy of protection or even to live. Thus, religious minorities in Pakistan are responded to in hostility.
The rise of Wahhabism in the nation of Pakistan has promoted hatred on a grassroots cultural level as well as in the top tiers of government. Messages of hate are broadcasted in the media as well as in Saudi-funded educational materials leading to an environment of violence.
Between the growing Wahhabist educations, the increasing violence, and the government's lack of protection, religious minorities live in fear of expression. Hence, many individuals in minority populations do not announce their identity, which is one of the leading causes of the reduction in the population count.
The minority intolerance has affected not only a minority but the majority of the country. Many of those minority members are actively supporting the economy of the country with their business and building the structure of the country, targeting them harms the economy of the minority as well as the majority who benefit from the economic benefits to the society. In the case of health, minorities due to their oppression have tried to be the number one in their community, to help their minority members as well as their fellow citizens. The systematic targeting of health provider creates a gap among the best of the best who could create a healthy environment in society.
Extensive documentation of Shia Muslims who were targeted due to their religion show that between 2002 to 2006, more than 2040 were killed and 2558 injured in targeted attacks on Shia Muslims in different provinces.
Many of those Shia were the doctors and lawyers with high ranks in their cities. The targeting of Shia individuals in positions of wealth and power is a sign of targeted systemic limitations for religious minorities. Left without repercussion, cultural violence has, and will continue to create a glass ceiling for certain populations in Pakistan, restricting their involvement in the greater society.
Statistical findings such as that mentioned above have damaged the international image of Pakistan. Many look at Pakistan as a conflict zone, thus limiting their economic and social ties in the nation.
Many have spoken about issues of intolerance but the will of bringing peace is not only the job of NGO’s and citizens, but the majority of the work also need to be done by the government. Individuals and NGO’s are the perfect assets to set the communication bridge among their citizens and government to hear the concern of both sides and set the efficient and practical steps to change the image of Pakistan and bring peace to the country for minorities.
To bring peace to Pakistan, open dialogue must be initiated among both between the minority populations themselves, and the minorities and the Pakistani government.
Even though minorities have worked and helped each other on many accusations, they lack a unified platform. The aim of communication is not to deal with daily incidents, but to set mutual interest among minorities in determining productive suggestions to the government of Pakistan.
At the same time they must work to facilitate the conversation among the minorities and government to make sure they are on the same side of the conversation regarding the needs of minorities and help the increase of national security.
The effects of dialogue can only be long-standing if parties feel safe to express their concerns and fears. The government of Pakistan must first realize the detrimental implications of religious intolerance on the nation’s economic, social, and political status. Next, it must announce immunity and protection for constructive criticism and create grounds for positive and inclusive change.
Mustafa Akhwand is the founder and executive director of Shia Rights Watch. He is also a M.A. Student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University focusing on World Religion and Diplomacy. Mustafa has also led facilitation, mediation, and peace-building programs in places such as Iraq.
**All views and opinions presented in this essay are solely those of the author and publication on Cornerstone does not represent an endorsement or agreement from the Religious Freedom Institute or its leadership.**