US panel urges commitments from Pakistan on religious freedom

A US panel called on Tuesday for a binding commitment from Pakistan to improving its treatment of religious minorities, including by tackling abuse of blasphemy laws.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises but does not set government policy, said the United States should seek written promises in return for Pakistan exiting the State Department’s blacklist of violators.

Such a deal will “encourage the Pakistani government to take meaningful steps to address religious freedom violations with defined benchmarks”, a report from the commission said.

Among immediate steps, Pakistan would eliminate religious affiliation on identity documents and start a review of all blasphemy cases.
The commission estimated that nearly 80 Pakistanis are imprisoned for blasphemy, some sentenced to die.

The commission also called for the immediate end to a ban on publications by the Ahmadi community, who were considered non-Muslim under Pakistan’s constitution.

The report acknowledged that any such agreement was likely to meet opposition in Pakistan.

But it said that the State Department could provide incentives by imposing punitive measures on Pakistan until it reaches a deal.

The State Department in 2018 declared Pakistan to be a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom, which paves the way for sanctions and other actions if the administration chooses.

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