Clinton Omits Religious Tolerance in Her Message to Pakistan on Its Independence Day

By Patrick Goodenough | August 15, 2012 | 4:22am EDT

Members of Pakistani minorities hold a demonstration in Lahore on Minorities Day, Saturday, August 11 2012 (Photo: Human Rights Focus Pakistan)

( – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent greetings to the Pakistani government and people on their Independence Day Tuesday, but in her comments on the country’s founder, she said nothing about his vision of a Pakistan where citizens enjoy equality irrespective of religion.

The only reference to religion in her brief message applied to Islam – Ramadan, specifically – despite the growing concern in recent years over the ill-treatment of Pakistan’s non-Muslim minorities.

“Muhammad Ali Jinnah dreamt of a vibrant, self-reliant Pakistan – a goal we all share,” Clinton said in her message, referring to the man regarded as the founder of Pakistan 65 years ago.

“As Muslims around the world reflect upon the meaning of community and sacrifice during this holy month of Ramadan, the United States celebrates the hardworking Pakistanis who strive to fulfill Jinnah’s vision of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan,” she added.

Of the words Clinton chose to describe Jinnah’s dreams for the nascent country – vibrant, self-reliant, stable, secure and prosperous – none touched on what many believe was the most significant ideal he championed, religious equality and the separation of mosque and state.

The man regarded as the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. (Photo: Jinnah Institute)

In a speech delivered to the inaugural meeting of Pakistan’s constituent assembly in Karachi, three days before independence in August 1947, Jinnah famously declared, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

“We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another,” he said. “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

Should this ideal be pursued, Jinnah told his listeners, “you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

His words were spoken against the backdrop of a partition of British India into the Hindu-majority India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan, an event marked by intercommunal violence and a massive population exchange as millions of Hindus moved to India and Muslims to Pakistan.

Jinnah, who is revered in Pakistan as Quaid-i-Azam (“great leader”) became the first governor-general but died the following year. His successors largely moved away from his vision of a secular and tolerant state. Pakistan was declared an Islamic republic in 1956 and underwent a process of Islamization under the military leader Zia al-Haq (1978-1988).

The plight of non-Muslims in Pakistan has drawn more attention in recent years, with Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis – followers of a non-orthodox form of Islam deemed heretical by many Muslims – targeted for harassment, violent abuse, abductions, forced marriage and forced conversion and killings.

Just last week, 250 Hindus trying to cross the border into India were prevented from doing so for a day by Pakistani authorities worried that they would not return. The episode caused a furor, with media reports citing cases of forced conversions, kidnapping and extortion. Eventually they were allowed to go to India, supposedly on pilgrimage, but some told Indian reporters that would never return, given the insecurity and fear under which they had been living.

Also troubling for many non-Muslims is the blasphemy issue. Pakistan’s penal code makes insulting Mohammed or desecrating the Qur’an criminal offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment. Opponents say the laws have long been misused to target Christians and other non-Muslim minorities.

In late 2010 a farm laborer and mother named Asia Bibi, accused of insulting Mohammed, became the first woman to be given the death penalty for blasphemy. Two politicians who supported her – a liberal Muslim provincial governor and the only Christian cabinet minister – were both assassinated for their stance.

Despite strong criticism of the abuses the Obama State Department, like its predecessor, has overruled recommendations by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent statutory body, to blacklist Pakistan as an egregious religious freedom violator.

‘Miseries, violations, attacks’

Shortly before Independence Day, Pakistan observes “Minorities Day,” when the contributions of the country’s non-Muslim minorities are acknowledged.

Rather than celebrate the day this year, several rights groups held a demonstration and press conference in Lahore, marking what they called a “black day.”

Human Rights Focus Pakistan president Naveed Walter told the gathering that in observing Minorities Day the government was presenting to the international community a false impression of interreligious harmony.

“The fundamental rights of minorities are violated and humiliated in this country and now it has crossed all the limits,” he said.

Rather than an occasion to celebrate, said Pakistan Christian National Party chairman Joseph Francis, “this day reminds us of all miseries, violations, attacks, blasphemy allegations, assassinations, discriminations and persecutions which minorities are facing for the last so many years.”

Francis asked what Jinnah would have made of “a Pakistan where churches, temples and [Sikh] gurdwara are brutally burnt and attacked, where minority leaders are assassinated, where Christians and Hindus are forcibly converted to Islam and then forcibly married according to Islamic faith, where allegation of 295B/C [the blasphemy provisions in Pakistan’s penal code] are fictitiously charged on minorities on regular basis, where thousands of Hindus migrated every year due to unsafe and risky conditions.”

The gathering called on the government to scrap the blasphemy laws, release those awaiting trial accused of blasphemy, prevent forced marriages and conversions, purge anti-minority material from school textbooks and abolish articles in the constitution declaring Islam to be the state religion and making it obligatory for the president to be a Muslim.

Pakistan has been a member of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council since that body was created in 2006, and plans to run for another term later this year.

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