ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Wednesday lodged strong protest with the US over the placement of Pakistan on the list of countries that violate religious freedom. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had on Tuesday said that Pakistan was joining Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, North Korea, Burma, Eritrea, Sudan and Tajikistan on a list of countries that have ‘engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’Sources said US officials were summoned at the Foreign Office and handed over a protest letter. Rejecting the ‘unilateral and politically motivated pronouncement’, Islamabad suggested Washington to introspect over the ‘exponential rise’ of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in US. “Pakistan rejects the US State Department’s unilateral and politically motivated pronouncement … Besides the clear biases reflected from these designations, there are serious questions over the credentials and impartiality of the self-proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise,” a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.The Foreign Office also explained measures that the government had taken to safeguard the rights of its citizens, including the use of legal and administrative mechanisms, adding that Islamabad submits compliance reports on its obligations with respect to fundamental freedoms as a party to seven of nine core human rights treaties. “Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities,” the statement asserted. The Foreign Office suggested that honest introspection on Washington’s part would have been a timely move in order to ascertain the causes behind the exponential rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the US. “Sadly, the proponents of human rights worldwide close their eyes to the systematic persecution of minorities subjected to alien domination and foreign occupation such as in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” the statement said, and described Pakistan as a ‘multi-religious and pluralistic society where people of diverse faiths and denominations live together.’Last year, Pompeo had placed Pakistan on a special watch list – a step short of the designation – which is used to persuade the targeted nation into introducing reforms suggested in annual US reports for religious freedom. A US Embassy spokesperson in Islamabad said Pompeo, along with placing Pakistan on the list, had concurrently issued a waiver of ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) sanctions’ against Pakistan as required by ‘the important national interest of the United States’. The spokesperson explained that each country given the CPC designation ‘presents unique challenges, as well as a different potential for change’. “The measures the United States carries out or waives with respect to a CPC are part of a broader strategy that aims to improve respect for religious freedom in that country,” the spokesperson added. “In certain instances, the Secretary (Pompeo) has determined that a waiver of the Presidential Action was required in the important national interest of the United States.” In an official statement on the development, Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari expressed surprise at the US administration’s decision to designate Pakistan among ‘countries of particular concern’, terming it a ‘brazen political tactic to pressure Pakistan to mitigate US failures in Afghanistan’.The PTI minister acknowledged that although Pakistan’s record on religious freedom is not ideal, but questioned if “the EU’s record is any better given the restrictions on churches, the banning of certain dress codes of Mulsims, refusal of entry of certain preachers – the list continues.” She reminded the US that “in our own neighbourhood, we have India where Muslims are being targeted and where the BJP is supporting violence against Muslims ostensibly over beef.” “The timing of the US move smacks of pure political blackmailing because it comes in the wake of Pakistan opening the Kartarpur corridor to ease access for the Sikhs of India,” a statement issued by the ministry reads. The human rights minister said that she would like to educate the Trump administration that a diverse denominations of Christian churches are present in Pakistan, including Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and others. She made it clear that the US attempt to pressurise Pakistan ‘to do its bidding’ will not work, directing their attention to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent remarks that he would not allow the country to be anyone’s ‘hired gun’ anymore. “It is time for the US to take responsibility for its failures in Afghanistan … and if it is serious about religious freedoms then it needs to examine the record of Modi’s India and some of its EU allies,” she added.Published in Daily Times, December 13th 2018.