Government does nothing to stop violence against Pakistan’s minorities
by Qaiser Felix
This is the conclusion reached by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2009 report. Taliban leader promises total war against the government, an “enemy of Muslims”. Catholic cabinet minister stresses his government’s commitment in favour of minorities and reiterates that religious freedom is protected under the constitution. A petition campaign is undertaken in Karachi against Swat extremists.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Violence against religious minorities is commonplace in Pakistan, one of 13 countries named by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom where the government condones or supports such behaviour.

This year “has seen the largely unchecked growth in the power and reach of religiously-motivated extremist groups whose members are engaged in violence in Pakistan and abroad, with Pakistani authorities ceding effective control to armed insurgents espousing a radical Islam ideology,” the 2009 report stated. Recent events in the Swat Valley confirm the situation.

Calling the Pakistani government and army “enemies of Muslims”, the local Taliban vowed on Monday to march forward till death. “Either we’ll be martyred or we’ll march forward,” Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said, who added that elements in the military and the government were trying to sabotage the peace process to please the United States.

Maulana Abdul Aziz, former imam of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), said that whatever situation has emerged in the troubled areas of Swat was a reaction of a military operation conducted on the mosque in 2007 when 86 people officially died.

In the meantime Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti reiterated his government’s commitment to ensure the safety of minorities in the country. “The present government believes in the principles of tolerance, human equality and peaceful co-existence,” the minister said.

Bhatti, a Catholic, slammed demands by the Taliban that non-Muslims pay the Jizia, or poll tax, saying that religious minorities are not conquered native communities but sons of the same soil and rightful citizens of Pakistan.

Explaining that the situation would improve the minister said that Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees that “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion” without discrimination.

Last Saturday activists and groups from civil society groups launched a petition campaign in Karachi, collecting signatures against the Taliban and the imposition of Sharia in the Swat valley.

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