- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pakistan is one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedoms, and the situation in Afghanistan, its western neighbor, is not much better, a U.S. government advisory commission says in a new report.

Pakistan represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated as ‘countries of particular concern’ by the U.S. government,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says in the report released Tuesday.

The commission repeated a recommendation it has made since 2002 — that Pakistan be designated a “country of particular concern.” Since the commission’s role is advisory, the State Department is under no obligation to enforce its recommendations.

In Afghanistan, the commission noted that religious freedom conditions “continued to be exceedingly poor for dissenting Sunni Muslims, as well as Shi’i Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Bahai’s.”

“The Taliban and other nonstate actors continue to target individuals for activity deemed ‘un-Islamic,’ and the Afghan Constitution fails explicitly to protect the individual right to freedom of religion or belief,” it added.

In light of the withdrawal of most coalition combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the commission recommends that the U.S. government increase and strengthen diplomatic, developmental and military engagement to promote human rights, especially religious freedom in the country.

“Helping create and protect civic space for diverse religious opinions on matters of religion and society can help counter the rise of violent religious extremism,” it said.