Eleven members of the US Congress have penned a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the Biden administration to suspend US aid to Pakistan. The lawmakers specifically called for this action until Pakistan conducts free and fair elections and reinstates constitutional order, according to a report by Dawn.
In the letter, the lawmakers have requested the Department of State to make a legal determination under the Leahy Laws and Section 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act. The purpose of this assessment is to ascertain whether US-origin security assistance has played a role in facilitating human rights violations in Pakistan. The move reflects a growing concern among US legislators regarding the democratic and constitutional situation in Pakistan, prompting them to call for a reevaluation of aid policies in light of these considerations.
"We further request that future security assistance be withheld until Pakistan has moved decisively towards the restoration of constitutional order, including by holding free and fair elections in which all parties are able to participate freely," they said in the letter.
The letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also highlighted the United States' intention to strengthen blasphemy laws. The lawmakers expressed concern that the proposed amendments could be exploited to exert more control over smaller religious communities and minority groups, as reported by Dawn. This underscores a growing apprehension among the legislators about the potential impact of changes to blasphemy laws, prompting them to draw attention to this issue in their communication with Secretary Blinken.
"We are extremely concerned about the passing of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2023 which will strengthen the existing blasphemy law, which has historically been used to persecute religious minorities," they said.
The bill, awaiting President Joe Biden's signature, has come under scrutiny from lawmakers who highlighted concerns about the hurried legislative process. They pointed out that the bill was passed hastily, despite calls from several lawmakers for a thorough parliamentary procedure.
Additionally, the legislators drew attention to incidents following the bill's passage, such as the desecration of churches and arson attacks on the homes of Christians in Jaranwala on August 16, just eight days after the bill's approval, as reported by Dawn.
The letter to Secretary Antony Blinken also made reference to protests against the bill, including those by the Shia community in Gilgit-Baltistan. The lawmakers expressed their worry about the ongoing religious persecution in Pakistan and cautioned about potential future restrictions on freedom of religion and belief if the bill is enacted into law.
The effort to address the concerns about the blasphemy law in Pakistan was spearheaded by US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a prominent advocate for Muslim causes in the US Congress. Joining her as signatories to the letter are other notable figures, including Frank Pallone Jr, Joaquin Castro, Summer Lee, Ted W. Lieu, Dina Titus, Lloyd Doggett, and Cori Bush.
The signatories of the letter are mostly members of the progressive group in Congress, who have been actively involved in advocating for various causes. Additionally, highlighting the Palestinian issue in Washington and participating in protests for a Gaza ceasefire.
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious minorities in Pakistan are particularly susceptible to prosecution or violence based on blasphemy allegations. The commission highlighted the weaponization of blasphemy laws against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet by the previous government in Pakistan.
US lawmakers, recognizing Pakistan as a key ally, emphasize the need to address issues like restrictions on freedom of expression, enforced disappearances, and harassment of political opponents. Concerns are raised over cases against Imran Khan, facing the potential death penalty, and human rights lawyer Imaan Mazari. The letter urges the US Embassy in Islamabad to send observers to legal proceedings for human rights defenders and political dissidents.
"We believe that the United States can play a constructive role in supporting positive change, and it is our hope that our cooperation can contribute to a more just and equitable future for the people of Pakistan," the lawmakers stated.
Image source: ANI