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Congress: Government fell prey to Pakistan’s designs on NSA talks

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New Delhi: The Congress on Sunday accused the government of not preparing adequately on the issue of the NSA talks and falling prey to Pakistan’s designs. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters here that the Narendra Modi government had not done proper hard-nosed groundwork and its approach lacked focus. He said Pakistan was provided an opportunity to wriggle out of discussing the serious issue of terrorism. “It is unfortunate that the government, due to its less preparation and its not taking concrete steps, allowed Pakistan to act on its designs and fell prey. It (the government) should have been alert. They should have had prior information and should have prepared a plan so that Pakistan does not succeed,” Singhvi said. He said the vicissitudes of India’s domestic policy should not be allowed to make a mockery of India’s status in the world due to its proud democratic status and its humongous economic power.

“We deprecate the ham-handed way in which the several aspects have been handled by the government,” Singhvi said. The Congress leader said “people scoring debating points across the border” after the NSA-level talks were called off by Pakistan was “hardly a good sight for the solidity of Indian foreign policy, which is based on coherence, continuity and consistency”. “I think the government needs to get its house in order. It needs to make sure that either the multiplicity is eliminated or complete unity and coherence are introduced in all those multiple agencies to speak through one agency and in one voice,” he said. He also slammed Pakistan and said the country wants to run away from all issues relating to terrorism and does not want exchange of information particularly on those serious matters on which it can be cornered. He said Pakistan had in the past also tried to divert from the agenda by raising new issues. “Pakistan’s goal is very clear. We condemn it,” Singhvi said. Apparently referring to the government laying red lines including its advice against any meeting with Hurriyat leaders, Singhvi said such lines should be drawn with care and with clear understanding of the exit route if there is a violation. The August 23-24 NSA talks between India and Pakistan were finally called off on Saturday, with both sides sticking to their positions.

In a late night statement on Saturday, the Pakistan Foreign Office said it has “come to the conclusion that the NSA talks would not serve any purpose if conducted on the basis of the two conditions” laid down by India. Pakistan’s statement came in response to India asserting that Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz was welcome for talks with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval but Islamabad must abide by the agenda agreed to at Ufa and only discuss terrorism. India also said there was no space for the Hurriyat in the talks, as per the Simla Agreement inked between both countries. The Pakistan High Commission had invited Hurriyat leaders for a reception on August 23 and Aziz had planned to separately meet Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

(IANS)

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Pakistan Reacts Sharply To U.S. Religious Freedom Charges

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused

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Pakistan
A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for victims of a deadly suicide bombing in a park, March 28, 2016, in Lahore. VOA

Pakistan is denouncing a U.S. decision to place it on a list of countries Washington says are the worst offenders of religious freedom.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities… there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise,” the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a strongly-worded statement.

The reaction comes a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his designation of “countries of particular concern” that allegedly have engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Freedom Violations

The countries on the blacklist are exposed to punitive sanctions, but Pompeo waived them for Pakistan, citing U.S. national interests.

Pakistan had until now been on a U.S. watch list for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated” severe violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan
Pakistani volunteers collect debris from an Ahmadi mosque demolished by an angry mob, in the eastern city of Sialkot. VOA

While rebuking Tuesday’s U.S. pronouncement as “unilateral and politically motivated,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry noted Pakistan is “a multi-religious and pluralistic society” of more than 200 million people, mostly Muslims.

“Around four percent of our total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths. Ensuring equal treatment of minorities and their enjoyment of human rights without any discrimination is the cardinal principle of the Constitution of Pakistan,” it said.

Ahmadis most persecuted community

The statement did not mention the Ahmadi sect, which critics say is the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. The constitution bars the community from “posing as Muslims” and from calling their worship places “mosques.”

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback while defending downgrading of Pakistan reiterated Tuesday the challenges facing the Ahmadi community.

USA, Pakistan
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington. VOA

“The Pakistani government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also — and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people — the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations,” said Brownback.

Blasphemy laws

He cited, among other things, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a cause for the downgrade of the country’s religious freedom ranking. The laws prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty.

Rights groups have long complained Islamist groups misuse the law to intimidate minorities in the country.

Insulting Islam or its prophet is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where mere allegations have led to mob lynchings. A former provincial governor, a federal minister, judges and lawyers are among those assassinated in Pakistan by extremists merely for calling for reform of the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse or for hearing cases and defending alleged blasphemers.

Asia Bibi

In a historic judgement this past October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammad. The women denied the charges from the outset as an outcome of a local feud and the country’s highest court cited lack of evidence in overturning her conviction by a lower court.

Pakistan
Radical Islamists rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who spent eight years on death row accused of blasphemy, in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Bibi and her family have been in hiding since her release. Her lawyer fled Pakistan shortly after the landmark court ruling announced on October 31, saying his life was in danger.

Bibi is awaiting a rehearing of her case by the Supreme Court and is residing in a safe place under government protection, say Pakistani officials.

Pakistan also arrested hundreds of Islamist activists and their leaders last month for staging days of mass violent protests to denounce the court for freeing Bibi.

Also Read: Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

The government has charged the detainees with treason and terrorism and officials have vowed to put them on trial in special courts.

“It’s our hope that they will, the new leadership in Pakistan, will work to improve the situation. There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi,” said Brownback.

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused of committing severe violations of religious freedom. (VOA)