Pakistan: US lawmakers urge to withhold further assistance to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Eleven members of the US Congress, in a letter to US State Secretary Antony Blinken, urged the Biden administration to withhold US assistance to Pakistan until the country holds free and fair elections and restores constitutional order, Dawn reported.
The lawmakers requested a legal determination from the Department of State under the Leahy Laws and Section 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act to assess if US-origin security assistance had facilitated human rights violations in Pakistan.
“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 US’s move to further boost the blasphemy law also figured prominently in the letter, which warned US State Secretary Blinken that the proposed changes would be used to further tighten the noose around smaller religious groups and minorities, reported Dawn.
“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 is yet to be signed by President Joe Biden, moreover, the lawmakers further pointed out that the bill was “passed in a haste despite repeated calls from many lawmakers for a thorough parliamentary procedure.”
It also highlighted that on August 16, eight days after the bill was passed, a mob desecrated churches and set fire to the homes of Christians in Jaranwala, according to Dawn.
Furthermore, it also referred to reported protests against the bill, including by the Shia community in Gilgit-Baltistan.
“Religious persecution remains rampant in Pakistan, and we are concerned about future restrictions on freedom of religion and belief should this bill become law,” the lawmakers warned.
The US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar initiated the move and she is one of the champions of Muslim causes in the US Congress. Other signatories include Frank Pallone Jr, Joaquin Castro, Summer Lee, Ted W. Lieu, Dina Titus, Lloyd Doggett and Cori Bush.
Reportedly, most of them are members of the progressive group within Congress.
The group played a key role in highlighting the Palestinian issue in Washington and also participated in protest meetings and rallies held to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, reported Dawn.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a report on Pakistan, noted that “religious minorities were especially vulnerable to prosecution or violence based on blasphemy allegations” and “blasphemy cases remained a substantial threat to religious freedom.”
The report also stressed that the previous government in Pakistan had “weaponized the country’s blasphemy laws against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members”.
Meanwhile, noting Pakistan’s significance as a long-standing ally, the US lawmakers also highlighted the need to address issues like restrictions on freedom of expression, speech, and religion, enforced disappearances, military courts and the harassment and arrest of political opponents and human rights defenders.
Underscoring the ongoing harassment and arrests, the lawmakers pointed out the cases against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan, adding that he could potentially face the death penalty for allegedly violating the Official Secrets Act.
Moreover, the letter also highlighted the human rights lawyer Imaan Mazari, who was taken from her home at 3 am without an arrest warrant after speaking at a rally against enforced disappearances, according to Dawn.
The letter further urged the US Embassy in Islamabad to send observers to hearings and other legal proceedings of human rights defenders and political dissidents, including for emblematic cases such as Mazari, Khadija Shah and Imran Khan.
“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.
Furthermore, they also offered to work with Secretary Blinken to promote human rights, democracy, and stability in Pakistan, Dawn reported.
However, it is still unclear how the US government will respond to these concerns and whether it will impact the dynamics of the US-Pakistan relationship.


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