ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan on Thursday slammed the U.S. State Department’s listing last week of the South Asian country as one of “particular concern” regarding religious freedoms.
Washington grouped Pakistan along with 11 other countries — including China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea — as being states that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
The announcement was made by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry on Thursday described the qualification as “detached from realties on the ground.”
A ministry spokesperson also expressed concern that India, which Islamabad maintains is “notorious for violation of religious freedoms of minorities” was not on the list.
Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the spokesperson, in her weekly briefing expressed disappointment over the U.S. move, calling it a “unilateral and arbitrary designation.”
“Pakistan has a multi-religious and pluralistic society with a rich tradition of inter-faith harmony,” Baloch said, adding that religious freedom and protection of the rights of minorities are guaranteed under the country's constitution.
She added that Islamabad has conveyed its concerns to Washington over the designation.
Though it was included in the same listing previously, last year Pakistan was for the first time not designated as a "country of particular concern" over religious issues.
Islamabad typically makes the list on the grounds that it has failed to reform the country's controversial blasphemy laws. The mere rumor of insulting Islam can incite mobs and spark lynching in Pakistan.
U.S. defines particularly severe the “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom,” including violations such as torture, prolonged detention without charges, forced disappearances and other violations. The listing is reviewed annually.
In recent years, Islamic extremists have repeatedly attacked religious minorities in Pakistan, including Shiite Muslims and Christians. Members of the Ahmadi sect face heavy discrimination and are subject to restrictions stemming from a 1984 law that forbids them from “posing as Muslims.”