— Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is continuing to defend his government’s efforts to tackle Islamic extremism and militancy through peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. But critics say the controversial floundering peace dialogue is instead emboldening Islamist forces in Pakistan, adding to the concerns of religious minorities.
Civil society groups and moderate political forces are opposed to Prime Minister Sharif’s policy of engaging the Pakistani Taliban in peace talks. These critics maintain that the outlawed alliance of militant groups has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis as part of its plan to reject the constitution and impose its brand of Islam through violent means.
Even though the dialogue has made little progress since it was launched two months ago, Prime Minister Sharif told a gathering of Pakistani diplomats in Islamabad Tuesday that the process still could succeed in ending the deadly militancy.
“We hope that our sincere efforts would yield the desired results and help turn the tide of violence, which is preventing our nation from realizing its true potential,” Sharif said.
But local and foreign observers have reported alarming deterioration in human rights areas in Pakistan. The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom in its latest report
expressed concern over increasing threats facing minority communities in Pakistan, saying conditions have “hit an all-time low.”
An independent watchdog, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its latest report
has said that the human rights situation has not shown any improvements in the past six months, adding that “more reasons for alarm have surfaced”. It has condemned attacks on places of worship belonging to non-Muslims. The commission says that there have been several attacks on Hindu temples, particularly in southern parts of Pakistan.
The organization’s secretary-general, I. A. Rehman, said that insecurity felt by non-Muslims is reflected in the thousands of people leaving the country at a time when a rise in religious intolerance is compelling many to convert to Islam.
“The condition of minorities is getting worse by month. It is now nearly impossible for a blasphemy accused to have a trial in Pakistan. They cannot have lawyers, they cannot have safety they cannot have protection. So, this is becoming a very grave issue,” he said.
Pakistani law criminalizes blasphemy against Islam, the majority religion in the country. Critics say the law has been abused in recent years to target religious minorities.
Rehman said that the rise in religious intolerance under the Sharif government is a matter of grave concern for civil society activists in Pakistan.
“The policies that are being followed are also creating problems. We are always for peace but we want to know on what conditions peace will be brought from the Taliban. Like many other civil society organizations we are full of apprehension that the only concession the state can give will be at the cost of women and minorities,“ said Rehman.
Pakistani security forces have conducted repeated offensives against militant groups entrenched in the country’s northwestern tribal areas but have not been able to uproot their bases. There have been peace talks and deals with militants previously but critics insist they have only allowed extremist groups time to regroup.