Highlighting attacks and mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan – particularly Ahmadiyya Muslims – several MPs have asked the David Cameron government to review aid to Pakistan to ensure it is not misused to promote religious intolerance.
Participating in a debate in the House of Commons on “Persecution of Religious Minorities: Pakistan”, more than 15 MPs recalled the plight of Christians, Sikhs and Hindus along with that of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the country to seek a review of aid.
Pakistan is one of the largest recipients of British bilateral aid, receiving nearly £1.17 billion between 2011 and 2015. The MPs paid tribute to Britain’s peaceful Ahmadiyya Muslim community and recalled Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 1947 speech promising a secular Pakistan.
The community, which has roots at Qadian in India’s Punjab, comprises nearly 0.2% of Pakistan’s population. MPs listed several threats the community faced, including anti-Ahmadi laws and discrimination.
Siobhain McDonagh (Labour), who led the debate, said: “The Ahmadiyya community is also denied the right to religious freedom and expression in Pakistan. On orders from the united religious clerics board, all works by that religious group are now banned in the region of Punjab.
“That includes books, CDs, periodicals and newspapers, and it means that hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Ahmadi Muslims in Punjab face police searches, criminal charges and up to five years in prison. Those texts are all religious, and their censorship is totally unjustified.”
Focussing on the plight of women from minorities, Fiona Bruce (Conservative) said: “Following this debate, I hope that the UK government and those responsible for disseminating aid in Pakistan will pay particular attention to the plight of women and girls in religious minorities, because they are doubly at risk of discrimination, regardless of the faith they adhere to.”
She added: “They risk systematic abduction, extortion, hijacking, being held for ransom, trafficking, rape, forced marriage, forced conversions, and allegations of blasphemy…Women are treated as second class, but if they come from a minority group, they are third class citizens. For example, Hindu girls in Sindh and Christian girls in Punjab are abducted, raped, or forced to convert to Islam in the face of extreme pressure, including threats to them and their families.”
Responding to the debate, Tobias Ellwood of the Foreign Office assured MPs that the government will continue to take every opportunity to raise issues of concern with the Pakistan government, particularly the Ahmadiyya issue with the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab.