Violence increasing on minorities in Pakistan

The mob arrived at around midnight, brandishing clubs. They smashed statues, looted gold artefacts and then set the Hindu temple in Pakistan ablaze. An accusation of blasphemy sparked the attack in the town of Larkana, human rights activists said, part of a spike in violence against Hindus in predominately Muslim Pakistan.
All of Pakistan’s minorities – Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and even Shi’ite Muslims – feel that the state fails to protect them, and even tolerates violence against them.
Many complain the problem has become worse since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is seen as more conservative and indulgent of Islamists than his predecessor, came to power last year.
This raises questions about the state’s pledge to rein in the militants who launch attacks into India and Afghanistan. The neighbours say the extremists act with the complicity of Pakistan’s security agencies. Islamabad denies that.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the hero of the country’s creation as a haven for the sub-continent’s Muslims, ushered in independence in 1947 with a promise to minorities that they would enjoy freedom of worship and equality without discrimination.
But for many members of Pakistan’s minorities those words ring hollow.
“Conditions in Pakistan had ‘hit an all-time low’and governments had failed to adequately protect minorities and arrest perpetrators of crimes against them”
—  A US Commission report on Religious Freedom
“Pakistan is increasingly failing to protect its minorities for two broad reasons: principally, rising religious intolerance and the space ceded to violent ideologies”
— Sherry Rehman, served as a government minister and ambassador to the United States under the previous Pakistani administration.
The security establishment has used Islamists for decades, against political opponents at home and to pursue aims in Afghanistan and against old rival India. But some militants, like the Pakistani Taliban, have turned on the state since Pakistan joined the US-led war on militancy.
The government launched peace talks with the Taliban in February and rights activists fear that they and other militants have been emboldened by the talks to step up attacks on their minority-group enemies.
Hindus and members of other minorities say the situation has worsened since Sharif won an election last year. Sharif has close ties with Saudi Arabia, whose brand of conservative Wahhabi Islam is preached by many of the people who denounce minorities. Saudi Arabia, the centre of Sunni Islam, sees Pakistan as a bulwark against Shi’ite Muslim Iran and it has long supported hardliners in Pakistan. It recently gave the country a gift of $1.5 billion.
$1.5 billion
100 families
Whatever the cause of the surge of violence and abuse, many Pakistani Hindus in the richest province of Punjab are feeling beleaguered and increasingly looking to get out. More than 100 families are leaving for India each month, rights groups say.
Among those who have gone were Munawar Jee’s brothers and their families after his married sister was kidnapped last year. Her abductors got her certified as a Muslim convert and re-married her off the next day. Recanting Islam would mean she could legally be put to death.
Punjab, the prime minister’s heartland, had until recently been a refuge for Hindus compared with some other areas.
But the province has also become a power base for militant groups, many of which have been nurtured by the security agencies and appeased by the politicians seeking votes.
“The militant groups work with impunity as they enjoy support from the state functionaries. They cannot work without some level of support”
—  IA Rehman, veteran rights campaigner
If the militants’ treatment of minorities can be seen as a reflection of the state’s acceptance of the groups, then people hoping the security forces will follow through on government vows to crack down on those responsible for violence would seem wise to be cautious.
“It is difficult to say if the security establishment has come out of its ‘good Taliban’/’bad Taliban’ mindset”
— Asma Jahangir, prominent lawyer and human rights campaigner
Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid did not return calls seeking comment on policy towards minorities. A Punjab government spokesman rejected the suggestion that authorities were not doing enough to help Hindus.
“The government is committed to protect its religious minorities, terrorists are not friends of anyone. The Punjab government does not have soft corner for any terrorist organisation.”                                                               — Shoaib Bin Aziz, activist
“Pakistan has kneeled before the Taliban by holding talks. What hope can Hindus see in the country’s future?”
— Kirshan Sharma, Hindu activist

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