Demand an end to escalating persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, a bipartisan coalition of members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week. The letter, signed by 15 members of Congress, was spearheaded by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and coincided with the most recent bout of religious violence, this time in Karachi. On December 2, in defiance of a pending petition before the Sindh High Court to prevent demolition, a private Pakistani builder destroyed a colonial-era Hindu temple, Shri Rama Pir Mandir, and several nearby homes of the Hindu neighborhood, triggering protests and leaving dozens homeless.
The letter highlighted the ongoing human rights violations suffered by the Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Ahmadiyya communities and urged the State Department to engage Pakistani officials to curb these violations. Initiated with bipartisan support by Congressmen Robert Dold (R-IL) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), both members of Tom Lantos Human Rights Committee (TLHRC), the letter came on the heels of HAF’s ninth annual advocacy day in late September.
“As a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and an active member of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, I believe we should help protect religious and ethnic minorities’ rights in Pakistan,” said Congressman Sherman. “In particular, I am concerned about the plight of the Hindus of Sindh. I will continue to work with the State Department, my colleagues in Congress, U.S.-based advocacy organizations, and the government of Pakistan on these important human rights issues. U.S.-Pakistan relations are complex and challenging, but I believe the promotion of human rights and religious freedom must be one of our priorities in our engagement with Islamabad.”
Several influential members of Congress, including leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Gerald Connolly (D-VA), signed onto the letter. Senior Democrats who supported the measure include, John Garamendi, Grace Napolitano, Bobby Rush, and Joe Crowley, Co-Chair of the House Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam and freshman Joe Walsh, both Republicans from Illinois, joined in the effort as well.
“The daily acts of terror that religious minorities confront daily throughout Pakistan cannot be masked even as the world’s attention is focused on that country’s proxy war against the U.S. led coalition in Afghanistan,” said Jay Kansara, HAF Associate Director of Government Affairs. “Religious freedom must be an integral part of the U.S. foreign policy dialog with Pakistan, and we appreciate the leadership of Congress on this issue.”
The letter to Secretary Clinton is HAF’s latest initiative on religious persecution in Pakistan. In October 2012, HAF hosted a Capitol Hill briefing highlighting the persecution of minority women in Pakistan. The expert panel of speakers elaborated on the systemic violations behind recent cases such as those of Rimsha Masih, a fourteen year-old disabled Christian girl imprisoned under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and Rinkle Kumari, a nineteen year-old Hindu girl kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. HAF also documents specific human rights violations against Pakistan’s Hindus and other religious minorities in its annual human rights report.
“Given the giant scale of U.S. aid that flows into Pakistan, it is vital that our lawmakers condition support on Pakistani efforts to end human rights abuses there by targeting the perpetrators,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Director and Senior Human Rights Fellow. “When the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks, Hafiz Saeed, flaunts his freedom as do so many other Islamist clerics and politicians at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government, we Americans must not falter in our efforts to end persecution, violence and terror.”