WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush should call on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at their March 4 meeting to act to protect Christians and other minorities from “rampant” attacks by Muslim extremists, two members of a federal panel on religious freedom overseas have said.
In a March 3 column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael Cromartie and Elizabeth Prodromou, both members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, urged Bush to press Musharraf for such action when they meet in Pakistan. While the Pakistani government has played an important role in the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda and other terrorists, it has not dealt with religiously motivated discrimination and violence more than five years after Musharraf promised to address the problem, Cromartie and Prodromou said.
“When President Bush visits Pakistan tomorrow, he should remind Musharraf that his support for [Islamic extremists] is at odds with not only the protection of human rights but also with his commitment to fight terrorism,” Cromartie, the USCIRF’s chairman, and Prodromou wrote. “A demonstrated U.S.-Pakistani commitment to improving religious freedom conditions in Pakistan is essential to any meaningful advances in the war on terrorism and to successes in the global promotion of democracy.”
Most of the violence is committed by extremists from the majority Sunni Islamic community against Shiite Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus.
Among recent examples of such violence were a suicide bombing that killed 23 people observing a Shiite holiday and the burning of several churches. Blasphemy allegations against religious minorities result in long imprisonments and sometimes attacks and even killings by Sunni vigilantes, Cromartie and Prodromou said.
Bush should urge Musharraf to take some specific actions, they wrote, including:
— Rescinding the Hudood Ordinances, laws designed to conform the Pakistani code to Islamic requirements.
— Repealing measures that outlaw the public practice of Ahmadi beliefs.
— Rescinding laws against blasphemy.
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but Pakistan’s constitution classifies them as non-Muslims. They are prohibited from preaching in public, seeking converts or distributing their written materials.
The USCIRF has called for the U.S. State Department to name Pakistan as one of its “countries of particular concern,” a designation for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom. The State Department, however, has declined to apply that label to Pakistan.
Cromartie is vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Prodromou is associate director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs and assistant professor of international relations at Boston University.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also is one of the USCIRF’s nine commissioners.
The USCIRF, which is a nonpartisan panel appointed by the president and members of Congress, researches the status of religious liberty in other countries and provides reports and recommendations to the White House and Congress.