U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chair Katrina Lantos Swett and Commissioner Mary Ann Glendon visited Islamabad on March 12-15 to meet with Pakistani officials, civil society, and religious communities – the first Commissioner-level visit to Pakistan in USCIRF’s history.
Commissioner Mary Ann Glendon said, “From our meetings with Pakistani officials, we don’t discount Pakistan’s many challenges. Yet Pakistan’s own Supreme Court has recognized the need for stronger actions, calling for a special police force to protect minority worship sites and a new commission on religious minorities. No such force has been created and the commission, buried within the Ministry for Religious Affairs, has no direct access to the Prime Minister. Creating such a security force and bringing the minority commission into the cabinet could help improve the situation while also fulfilling Pakistan’s highest court’s ruling.”
On the day they departed the country, Pakistani Taliban terrorists attacked two churches in Lahore during worship services. At least 15 people were killed and over 80 wounded. The attack follows other assaults on Shi’a mosques and meeting places.
“We mourn with those grieving at funerals today. These horrific attacks sought to kill as many Christians as possible, occurring during Sunday services at two Lahore churches,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett. “During our visit we learned about government efforts to fight the Pakistani Taliban, and yet these attacks continue to unfold without adequate response. Prime Minister Sharif and his government need to respond decisively and ensure worship sites are secured and perpetrators arrested and prosecuted. Just weeks earlier a Shi’a mosque was attacked in the capital Islamabad. It is important to recognize that these terrorist groups are equal opportunity murderers and minority Muslims as well as Christians have been victims of their vicious attacks.”
There are reports that Christian protestors killed two bystanders believed to be involved in the attack. USCIRF has monitored religious freedom conditions in Pakistan for many years and repeatedly has recommended that the State Department designate it as a “country of particular concern” for the government’s perpetration and toleration of severe religious freedom violations. The Pakistan chapter of USCIRF’s 2014 Annual report details these violations.