Question in the Lords yesterday, June 22:
Pakistan: Religious Minorities
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty's Government what advocacy the Foreign Office is undertaking on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we engage regularly with the authorities in Pakistan on issues of religious freedom. Most recently, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my honourable
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friend Mr Burt, discussed religious freedom with the newly appointed Pakistan Prime Minister's Advisor on Interfaith Harmony and Minority Affairs. He also met religious leaders from across Pakistan as part of the Ministry's Interfaith Council. Ministers and our High Commission in Islamabad will continue to maintain regular contact.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, what does the abject failure of the authorities in Pakistan to bring to justice those who were responsible for the brutal murder of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, and of Shahbaz Bhatti, the courageous Minister for Minorities, say about their commitment to uphold the rule of law and to protect minorities? Is not impunity for murder, forced conversion, rape, forced marriage, the denial of civil rights and the failure to protect Ahmadis, Sufis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, and others, directly linked to the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan? Does it not point to the crucial importance of returning to the original vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who insisted on upholding the rights of minorities, saying that they should have a full place in Pakistan society?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord has set out a grim and very telling catalogue. The events he has described are appalling, particularly the recent murders and the apparent support by some members of the public in Pakistan for those who may even have carried out these atrocities. These are very worrying matters that we raise again and again with our friends and the authorities in Pakistan. We see Pakistan as a country to which we are bound by longstanding ties, but also a country where we must put forward our values in a strong and effective way. I have to say to the noble Lord that no one can be happy about this pattern of affairs, or with the advance in extremism around the country, no doubt encouraged by apparent aspects of impunity. All these matters are constantly in our minds and constantly in the way that we are developing our relationship with Pakistan, a great nation that needs certain help and support at this difficult time.
Lord Elton: My Lords, as the minority groups in Pakistan number some 14 million people, of whom around 3 million are Christian, this is a major problem. Can the Minister confirm that 1.2 million people living in this country are of Pakistani origin, and that this form of violence has now been exported here, particularly in relation to the Ahmadi population? Perhaps it is worth mentioning what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did not say. In his speech, Jinnah said:
"Minorities ... will be safeguarded. Their religion, faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship".
Lord Howell of Guildford: My noble friend is right, as was the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to remind us of the original qualities and values which the founders of the state of Pakistan, and obviously Mr Jinnah himself, put forward. In the present situation we want to try to maintain, deepen and, in some cases, resurrect these
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things. As to our own direct links with Pakistan, I am told that there are 1 million British citizens in this country with family connections in Pakistan. Believe it or not, the number of visits and journeys undertaken between this country and Pakistan each year amounts to 1.4 million. So our ties are close, which puts us in a position where we have responsibility and, I hope, credibility and some authority in dealing with our Pakistani friends.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Articles 20, 21, 22, 26 and 27 of the Pakistan constitution guarantee rights for all minorities? Does he agree that the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religion or group, should be protected? Pakistan is at war with extremists and terrorists, and since expressing its support for Operation Enduring Freedom, has lost some 34,000 citizens. Is not the right approach that of supporting Pakistan's institutions and its democratic Government, as Her Majesty's Government are already doing? It is better to support friends when they are in difficulties rather than kicking them when they are down.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is correct. No one questions the fact that Pakistan is facing fearful challenges of all kinds, one of which is its contiguity to Afghanistan and the challenges of extremism. Taliban operations are just one example of many pressures on Pakistani society. Of course we must approach these matters in a supportive mood, but we must also uphold our values. The fact is that, for instance, the blasphemy legislation is part of the Pakistan penal code. We have raised the issue of that kind of legislation by pointing to some of the tensions and excitements it generates. We would like to see a pattern where that kind of regulation, along with the attitudes and terms it generates, is less prominent. That might lead to some reduction in the violence and the apparent readiness of some people to commit acts of terrible atrocity, particularly the two murders just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Prime Minister himself has made any representations to President Ali Zardari to provide adequate protection for Ahmadi Muslims, who have been subject to multiple assassinations and incessant persecution fuelled by the Khatme Nabuwat, who openly incite to murder in leaflets and public speeches? Will the Prime Minister take up with Zardari the denial of voting rights to Ahmadis by requiring them to make a sworn statement contradicting an article of their faith in order to be included on the electoral register?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was in Pakistan only a few months ago and certainly made representations on all aspects of human rights and religious persecution in Pakistan, and I think that his views were very well received. Specifically on the Ahmaddiyya, we meet regularly with representatives of the Ahmaddiyya community to listen to their concerns. Most recently Mr Burt, whom I have already mentioned, and my noble friend Lady Warsi met representatives of minority religious groups to discuss freedom in Pakistan. About
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a month ago, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary publicly condemned the Lahore attacks on the Ahmaddiyya community. We are well aware of these pressures and we dislike them, as does my noble friend. We continue to raise these issues as vigorously as we can.