Religious freedom in Pakistan
Delivered in Plenary - 20th May 2010
Pakistan’s inability to develop a strong and enduring democracy has impacted – quite severely, in my view – on religious freedom in that country. Successive leaders have used Islam to justify repression of minorities and justify autocracy, particularly of a military nature, although recent government efforts to remedy this must be recognised.
Pakistan’s constitution, although nominally upholding religious freedom, still allows for laws such as the blasphemy laws, which are discriminatory towards non-Muslims, and the persecution of Shia and Ahmadiyya minorities is a common feature. The emphasis on religious identity that was the basis for the foundation of Pakistan, and its creation, sadly appears to foster a climate of intolerance and often even violence towards those outside the religious mainstream.
The proliferation of Deobandi madrasahs, preaching messages of hatred against the West, has created an environment in which extremism and fundamentalism flourish and too many EU citizens – including from my own country, the UK – have gone through their clutches. The clearest manifestation of this is the Pakistani Taliban, a terrorist movement whose intentions were again made only too clear recently in the, mercifully failed, Times Square bomb plot in New York.
I fear personally that nothing will change in Pakistan until that country develops an education and political system that truly supports the principles of religious freedom, tolerance and equality.