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Pakistan Restores Passport Section Identifying Religion


Pakistan has formally restored a section in its passports requiring citizens to identify their religion. Radical Islamic parties had been agitating against the removal of the section, saying it undermined Pakistan's identity as an Islamic nation.

In a move seen as surrendering to the demands of radical Islamic groups, Pakistan's federal cabinet on Thursday approved the recommendation of a ministerial committee that the religion of a passport holder must be stated in the document.

The Pakistani government redesigned the travel document last October in line with international standards, omitting the section on the grounds that no other country asks its citizens to state their religion in its passports.

But the move angered the country's Islamic parties, which saw it as an attempt to tone down Pakistan's identity as an Islamic state. They also accused President Pervez Musharraf of trying to secularize Pakistan under pressure from the United States.

Rao Sakandar Iqbal is a senior federal minister. He says the Pakistani passports will also now include the word "Islamic" on their covers.

"The religion of the passport holder may be stamped at a suitable place on the new passport. The words 'Islamic Republic of Pakistan' should be inscribed on the cover of the passport," he said.

But the cabinet's decision has angered religious minorities. Shahbaz Bhatti, head of Pakistan's Christian Liberation Front, says the opposition Islamic parties are trying to turn Pakistan into a theocratic state, similar to Afghanistan under the ultra-conservative Taleban government.

Mr. Bhatti says mentioning religion on travel documents goes against President Pervez Musharraf's attempts to develop the country as a moderate Muslim state.

"It is against the president's vision to make Pakistan a democratic and moderate state. This totally violates his comments and his policies," he said.

Mr. Bhatti adds that the more Christians, Sikhs and other religious minorities are singled out, the more they will become a target for religious extremists.

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