Pakistan is a religiously diverse country. U.S. government figures estimate that 85-90 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, with 10-15 percent belonging to the Shi’i Muslim community. The Sunni community is divided into Barelvi, Sufi, Deobandi, Whahabbi, and other sects. Approximately 4 percent comprise other minority religious communities, such as Christian, Hindus, and Sikhs. Ahmadis are estimated to comprise 3-4 million Pakistanis, and the community considers themselves part of the Muslim majority.
The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shi’i Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith. Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and other religiously discriminatory legislation, such as the anti-Ahmadi laws, have fostered an atmosphere of violent extremism and vigilantism. Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence. Growing religious extremism threatens Pakistan’s security and stability, as well as the freedoms of religion and expression, and other human rights, for everyone in Pakistan.
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The situation in Pakistan for religious freedom declined during the reporting period. Pakistan’s civilian government has been led by President Asif Ali Zardari since 2008, and is scheduled to complete its full term after the close of the reporting period, which will be a first in the history of Pakistan. President Zardari is the widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007, reportedly by militants linked to al-Qaeda. The Bhutto and Zardari families are Shi’i Muslims from the province of Sindh and have assumed leadership roles in a country traditionally dominated by Sunnis from Punjab. Despite a civilian government, the Pakistani military and intelligence services continue to be influential and independent of civilian oversight and are believed to maintain close contacts with terrorist organizations and other militant groups.
Discriminatory laws promulgated in previous decades and persistently enforced have fostered an atmosphere of religious intolerance and eroded the social and legal status of members of religious minorities, including Shi’a, Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus. While the constitution provides for religious freedom, the right is undercut by other provisions and basic laws. Government authorities do not adequately protect members of religious minority communities from societal violence, and rarely bring perpetrators of attacks on minorities to justice. This impunity is partly due to the fact that Pakistan’s democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary and the police, have been weakened by endemic corruption, ineffectiveness, and a general lack of accountability. Also important are the suspected links between Pakistan’s army and intelligence service with militants who target religious minorities.
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