When Pakistan was created in 1947, 23% of its population was non-Muslim. Today in Pakistan -- "Land of the Pure" in Urdu -- only about 3% of the population is non-Muslim. At present, about 80-85% of its citizenry are Sunni Muslim. Pakistan's appalling treatment of Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims and other Islamic sects, such as the Ahmadis, has caused many minorities to leave the country. Most Hindus have migrated to India, others to Singapore and Hong Kong.
The Pakistanis, it is clear, do not want to host minorities: instead, they seem to be increasingly engaged in "purifying the land of the pure."
The country's male-only, elementary school-level madrassas turn out millions of students who are taught to hate Hindus, Christian and Jews.
The imams of Pakistan, many of whom are trained in Saudi Arabia's austere Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, financially support Pakistan's madrassas and help to perpetuate intolerance. The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy reports that Pakistani seventh grade textbooks portray Pakistan's Hindus as a traitorous group that supports the country's arch enemy, India. The same books also portray Pakistan's Christians as agents of the West bent on destroying Islam. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in a 2016 report:
"[T]he content of Pakistani public school textbooks related to non-Islamic faiths and non-Muslims continue to teach bias, distrust, and inferiority. Moreover, the textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies: Pakistani Christians as Westerners or equal to British colonial oppressors, and Pakistani Hindus as Indians, the arch enemy of Pakistan."
Even though Pakistan's constitution proclaims that all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, will be treated equally before the law, this is clearly not what is taking place. Reports from numerous NGOs and the US Department of State detail the daily human rights abuses of minorities that violate the letter and spirit of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The US State Department has consistently listed Pakistan as a "Country of Particular Concern."
Despite the Pakistani government's having established a "National Action Plan" to protect minorities, there is no discernible improvement in their daily lives. The discriminatory treatment of Pakistan's minorities by governmental institutions is reflected in the everyday marginalization and humiliation of Hindus, Christians and other small communities of faith. These abuses include acts of arson at Hindu temples and churches as well as desecration of religious symbols, and vandalism at cemeteries and shrines of minorities. The most venomous abuses of all are probably the false accusations of blasphemy, especially common in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. In Pakistan, as in many other Muslim countries, blasphemy is a crime punishable by death, and often also ends up in mob violence against entire minority communities. Morning Star News reported last month:
"According to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice, 1,949 cases of people accused of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan between 1987 and 2021, including 928 Muslims, 643 Ahmadis, 281 Christians, 42 Hindus, and 55 of unknown faith."
Human rights violations on a mass scale also occur against women in Pakistan. These crimes include the kidnapping of Hindu or Christian girls, often pre-teens, who are then forced to convert to Islam and/or coerced into marriages. One report estimates that at least 1,000 Hindu and Christian females are abducted every year in Pakistan.
More unequal treatment of minorities arises during disputes between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors over land, business or personal disagreements. These usually end in a bad way for the minority family. A Muslim neighbor can pull the "blasphemy law card," falsely accusing the Christian of showing disrespect for the Koran, the Islamic Prophet Muhammad or some tenet of Islamic doctrine. This often results in the innocent non-Muslim either giving up in the dispute or being imprisoned.
A guilty verdict on a charge of violating the blasphemy law in Pakistan, whether the violation was intentional, accidental or fabricated, can result in severe penalties, including a death sentence. Since 1987 when the anti-blasphemy law was made more stringent, at least 1,500 Christians have been imprisoned. And according to an Indian media report last month: "Pakistan was to review its harsh blasphemy laws. It has made them even harsher."
This describes a mere fraction of the indignities and sufferings endured by Pakistani non-Muslims. In December 2022, there were two horrific anti-Christian incidents. In one , a mob murdered the brother of a woman, Lalli Kachi, who was abducted from her home in Sindh Province, and forced to convert to Islam. The other incident, also in Sindh, was the murder of a Hindu mother, Daya Bheel, whose mutilated body was found in a remote field.
Shia Muslims. who may constitute about 15% of the population, are condemned as heretics by their Sunni co-religionists. The Shia are victims of attacks during Friday prayers, including suicide bombings at their mosques. In 2021, (Sunni) ISIS terrorists slaughtered 11 Shia Muslim coal-miners. Shia Muslims are routinely harassed, particularly during the Islamic month of Muharram, when Shia hold public processions. Notably, even the Sunni-majority American Muslim Bar Association has criticized the failure of the Pakistani government, as a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to abide by its commitments to safeguard minorities.
Ahmadis, another religious minority of whom there are estimated to be about half a million in Pakistan, are denounced by most Sunni Muslims as being non-Muslim, because they defer to their prophet, Mirza Gulam Ahmad, while Sunni and Shia Muslims believe that the last prophet was Mohammad. Ahmadis are so viciously persecuted in Pakistan that the sect moved its headquarters to Britain. There is no pretense of protection of Ahmadis in Pakistan: the government's Penal Code declares that Ahmadis are non-Muslims. By law, Ahmadis are not permitted to build mosques or to issue the public call to prayer.
In December, after the beheading of Daya Bheel, whose skin was reportedly peeled off her head, India's Foreign Ministry demanded that Pakistan fulfill its obligations to protect minorities. The demand will likely have little impact upon crimes such as the abduction of non-Muslim girls and women by Muslim men.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.