Washington, July 18 (IANS) The already poor religious freedom environment for Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus has continued to deteriorate in Pakistan over the last eighteen months, according to a US body monitors violations of religious freedom abroad.
Releasing the findings of its Pakistan Religious Violence Project Wednesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said it had tracked 203 publicly-reported incidents of sectarian violence resulting in more than 1,800 casualties, including over 700 deaths.
The Shia Muslim community has borne the brunt of attacks (77) from militants and terrorist organizations, with some of the deadliest attacks occurring during holy months and pilgrimages, the report said.
"While Shias are more at risk of becoming victims of suicide bombings and targeted shootings, the already poor religious freedom environment for Christians, Ahmadis, and Hindus has continued to deteriorate, with a number violent incidents occurring against members of these communities," it said.
The report noted that between January 2012 and June 2013 there were 16 attacks against Hindus and 3 attacks against Sikhs resulting in the death of two Hindus and one Sikh. Four Hindus were also injured.
There were three incidents of targeted shootings and seven rapes against Hindus, the report said.
Noting that the project's findings "paint a grim and challenging picture for the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif," the report said "concrete, resolute action is needed to ensure that perpetrators of violence are arrested, prosecuted and jailed."
"To stem the rising tide of violent religious extremism, groups and individuals responsible for attacks on religious communities must be punished," it said.
"While banned militant groups and private citizens are responsible for the majority of attacks on religious communities, government actors are not blameless," the report said suggesting that "police officers have turned a blind eye to mob attacks or have refused to file police reports when victims are religious minorities."
"The climate of impunity threatening all Pakistanis, regardless of their faith, also is exacerbated by the much-abused blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws," the report said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)