Ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the White House today, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) spearheaded a coalition letter on behalf of 28 non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, and human rights advocates to urge President Barack Obama to address religious freedom issues in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The letter’s signatories were part of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable, a non-affiliated body of organizations and individuals that regularly convenes in Washington, D.C to address global human rights and religious freedom concerns.
“The broad-based coalition comprising of Hindu, Christian, Muslim, and atheist groups and leaders sent a clear message to President Obama that religious freedom in Pakistan is an urgent matter that must be addressed in any bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Sharif,” said Jay Kansara, HAF’s Director of Government Relations. “Conditions for religious minorities in Pakistan are deteriorating at an alarming rate and can no longer be ignored by the U.S.”
The letter enumerated a wide array of issues facing religious minorities in Pakistan, ranging from archaic blasphemy laws to mass violence and attacks on religious sites to the forced conversion of more than one thousand Hindu and Christian girls annually. It further detailed the attacks and harassment moderate Muslims face from both extremists and government authorities for speaking out in support of religious freedom.
“The Pakistani state will not achieve peace and stability so long as it continues to tolerate and sanction egregious and severe violations of religious freedom,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow. “And unless the U.S. shifts its policy priorities with Pakistan to supporting civil society, democratization initiatives, human rights, and religious freedom, the atmosphere of religious intolerance and extremism will only increase.”
In addition to the IRF Roundtable coalition initiative, Kalra and Kansara joined a group of 20 individual scholars, foreign policy experts, and human rights advocates in a similar, independent letter urging the President to raise the issue of protecting religious minorities in Pakistan.