`Make religious freedom top priority for US-Pak ties’

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses concern about religious freedom in Pakistan.

Updated: Apr 08, 2011, 14:11 PM IST

Washington: Expressing strong concern about religious freedom in Pakistan, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked the White House to make it a major priority in talks with Islamabad.

"The failure to protect the religious freedom of all, especially minorities, and to build a pluralistic tolerant society emboldens fundamentalist terror groups," said Bishop Howard Hubbard, chairman of the US Conference of Catholics Bishop`s (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace in a letter to the US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

"We remain deeply concerned about religious freedom in Pakistan and urge it be a major priority in US policy," he wrote in his April 06 letter.

"The assassination of Pakistan`s Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Cabinet, is a grim reminder of this threat. We hope the recent appointment of Paul Bhatti as Special Advisor for Religious Minorities will mean his brother`s legacy of defending minority rights will continue," the Bishop said.

In the same letter, Hubbard stressed the importance of a responsible transition in Afghanistan.

"A responsible transition will require a strengthened civilian commitment by the US and the international community to improve citizen participation, civil society capacity, accountability and good stewardship to promote development and good governance in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he wrote.

"While the military drawdown will significantly reduce US costs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a comprehensive commitment to continued development is critical to long-term success," he said, emphasizing the importance of civil society participation and accountability in development and noted the need to factor in the structure of Afghan society in planning.

"The success and sustainability of the military drawdown will hinge upon a successful transition to Afghan leadership, much of which must be exercised at the local level given the decentralised nature of Afghan society," Hubbard said.