Eleven Democrat representatives, led by Ilhan Omar, who is herself a Muslim, denounced the country’s abysmal human rights record and called for action.
by Massimo Introvigne
Led by Ilhan Abdullahi Omar of Minnesota, who launched the initiative and is herself a Muslim, and Greg Casar of Texas, eleven democrats wrote to Secretary of State Blinken on November 17 urging the Biden administration to suspend military and security assistance to Pakistan because of the country’s gross religious liberty and other human rights violations. Representatives Cori Bush, André Carson, Joaquin Castro, Lloyd Doggett, Summer Lee, Ted Lieu, Jim McGovern, Frank Pallone, and Dina Titus also signed the letter.
“Pakistan is a long-standing ally of the United States,” the lawmakers wrote, “and we recognize the importance of our relationship for regional stability and counterterrorism efforts. However, we are unable to ignore the persistent reports of human rights abuses including restrictions on freedom of expression, speech, and religion and belief, as well as enforced disappearances, military courts, and harassment and arrest of political opponents and human rights defenders. These violations not only violate the fundamental rights of the Pakistani people but also undermine the principles of democracy, justice, and rule of law.”
“We are extremely concerned” the letter continues “about the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2023 which will strengthen the existing blasphemy law, which has historically been used to persecute religious minorities, if signed by the President. The Bill was passed in haste despite repeated calls from many lawmakers for a thorough parliamentary procedure. On August 16, eight days after the Bill was passed, a mob desecrated churches and set fire to homes of Christians in Jaranwala. There have been reported protests against the Bill, including by the Shia community in Gilgit-Baltistan. Religious persecution remains rampant in Pakistan, and we are concerned about future restrictions on freedom of religion and belief should this Bill become law.”
In addition, the lawmakers say they have reasons to fear that the 2024 presidential and political elections in Pakistan will not respect the rules of democracy.
This is enough, they claim, to ask the question “under the Leahy Laws, Section 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act, and all other relevant statutes… whether U.S.- origin security assistance has been used for gross violations of human rights.”
The lawmakers “request that future security assistance be withheld until Pakistan has moved decisively toward the restoration of Constitutional order.” Whether geopolitical considerations will be prioritized once again over human rights remains to be seen.