Should Religious Freedom Advocates Cheer Trump On Pakistan?

Source: Huffington Post

By Peter Henne, Contributor

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department added Pakistan to a watch list for religious freedom violations. This follows an angry tweet from Donald Trump about Pakistan, and a more substantive cut-off of U.S. security assistance. Pakistan has faced years of criticism for its failure to disrupt terrorist activity within its borders and its persistent violations of religious freedom. Should those of us worried about the status of religious freedom be heartened by this move? Unfortunately, the answer is no. There is no indication the Trump Administration will actually follow through with these actions to call for reforms in Pakistan.

Tensions between Trump and Pakistan have been growing for months. In an August 2016 speech on his Afghanistan strategy, Trump criticized Pakistan, accusing it of “housing the very terrorists we fight.” And then on New Year’s Day, Trump sent an angry tweet about Pakistan, threatening to cut off U.S. aid. This week, he followed through, suspending U.S. aid. To the surprise of some, the Administration also called out Pakistan for human rights abuses, placing it on a watch list for religious freedom violations.

The Trump administration’s actions may appear abrupt, but they reflect long-standing concerns. Pakistan and the United States have had a tense relationship on counterterrorism since the 1990s. The United States was initially critical of Pakistan’s support for Kashmiri militant groups. This expanded to concerns about al-Qaeda due to Pakistan’s ties to the Taliban — which hosted Osama bin Ladin — and blind eye towards al-Qaeda operatives. As I discussed in my book, while Pakistan did cooperate with America in some very important ways after 9/11, it continued to allow terrorists to operate in its territory.

Pakistan’s religious freedom record is also a problem. The country’s blasphemy laws have enabled vigilante violence against religious minorities — particularly Christians — and the authorities have done little to stop this violence. Additionally, Ahmadi Muslims face both social and governmental discrimination and harassment. The government also has favored hard-line Islamist groups for decades, giving these groups significant sway over the society to the detriment of Muslims and non-Muslims. When I ran the Pew Research Center’s work on religious freedom, Pakistan was consistently among the most repressive countries in the world.

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