Interfaith harmony Pakistani govt’s top priority: Ambassador Masood Khan

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DNA

WASHINGTON: Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Masood Khan on Wednesday said interfaith harmony was top priority of the Pakistani government and society.

“The Government of Pakistan is making conscious efforts to bring people together and strengthen intersocietal linkages,” said the ambassador.

Khan said this during the interfaith dialogue hosted by the Embassy of Pakistan “to build bridges of understanding” in Washington DC, US. A group of faith leaders representing various religious groups, diplomats, representatives from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), think tanks, and civil society attended the event.

As per the embassy, the dialogue focused on fostering harmony and peace among different religious communities and assimilated societies.

Ambassador Khan reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to fostering unity and strengthening intersocietal bonds.

“Such gatherings,” he stated, “provide a platform for broader perspectives about each other’s faith.” He urged participants to focus on commonalities and tear down barriers that divide us.

It should be noted that the US State Department Wednesday released its annual report on international religious freedom, highlighting serious concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan and some other countries.

Addressing the issue of religious minorities, Khan called the unfortunate killing of minorities a crime against humanity. He assured the audience that the government is taking all steps to curb religious intolerance and stem the abuse of blasphemy laws.

As per the State Department report, in 2023, 329 individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, with 75% being Muslims, 20% Ahmadis, and 3.3% Christians.

The Federal Investigation Agency arrested 140 people over blasphemy allegations on social media, with 11 sentenced to death and two of these sentences confirmed by higher courts.

Violent attacks by armed sectarian groups targeted religious gatherings and buildings. These often anonymous attackers victimised members of the Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi, Sikh, Sunni, and Shia communities.

“On December 29, 2023, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom and issued a waiver of the sanctions that accompany the designation in the national interest of the United States. Pakistan was first designated a CPC in 2018,” it said.

Addressing the event at the Pakistani embassy, former US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson also expressed her optimism about curbing violent extremism through interfaith dialogue.

Daniel Spiro, representing the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society (JIDS), emphasised the shared heritage of Abrahamic religions and the importance of treating all people with dignity.

Sikhs of America Director Dr Surinder Singh Gill commended Pakistan for facilitating Sikh pilgrimages and the Kartarpur Corridor initiative, a peace gesture also lauded by the international community.

Other speakers including Chairman of Adam Center Rizwan Jaka, member of All Neighbors Mike Crowe, Alok Srivastava from American Hindu Coalition and social activist and renowned artist Karina Hou, and a Pakistani American community leader Ayesha Khan also echoed similar sentiments, calling for healing and cooperation among societies.

The speakers emphasised the significance of interfaith dialogue and the government’s efforts to protect the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Despite the challenges, all faith leaders expressed confidence in continued progress and cooperation toward a more inclusive and equitable society.

The dialogue concluded with a renewed sense of hope for continued progress and cooperation.