Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has jokingly been said to have a “death stare” capable of turning political opponents to stone, but I fear those piercing blue eyes will never be unleashed on targets that thoroughly deserve a laser-like scorching. By any reasonable reckoning she should have directed it at the United Nations and its recent resolution attacking President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Instead, Ms Bishop blathered the absurdity that Jerusalem’s future can only be decided with the approval of the world’s Muslim nations.
Why should the status of the ancient religious and cultural capital of the Jewish people be decided by Islamic tyrants and dictatorships? It is like saying China has the right to approve which city is the capital of Australia. (I have a feeling of foreboding as I write this, as it may well happen some day….). Australia weakly abstained from the UN resolution instead of voting against it, seeming not to grasp that Israel making its capital in Jerusalem does not preclude a future Palestinian state also having its capital in that ancient city.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, warned member states that backed a resolution condemning President Trump’s decision about substantial cuts in the foreign aid they receive from the US. Egypt, the main sponsor of the resolution condemning President Trump’s decision, receives $US1.5 billion a year. Turkey, which described the U.S. as “a partner in bloodshed”, gets $US155 million. The West Bank and Gaza – both bitterly anti-US – get $US357 million, plus another $355 million for Palestinian refugees. Pakistan gets $US777 million. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
Which brings me to Australian foreign aid. In 2016-17 we gave $436 million to the Palestinians. Julie Bishop should really direct her death stare at this donation. It is not that the Palestinians don’t need the money; there are layers of corruptocrats eager to maintain the lifestyles to which foreign money has led them to become accustomed. Why should Australia be donating to Hamas and Fatah when both factions remain intransigent about negotiating with Israel and the possibility of a two-state solution. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority not only pays pensions to the families of terrorists killed when attacking Israelis, but also names its schools after suicide bombers.
It is our aid to Pakistan which is probably the most iniquitous and which warrants the close attention of Julie Bishop’s death stare. In 2016-17 Australia gave Pakistan $50.7 million as “official development assistance”, and in 2017-18 it was $47.1 million. Pakistan is noted for its double-dealing with the Taliban. It should also be remembered that Osama bin Laden and his family remained safely hidden in Abbottabad in Pakistan, a few miles from Pakistan’s large military academy. The Pakistani doctor who identified Osama bin Laden and his family via blood tests connected to a vaccination program, and thus enabled U.S. forces to “take him out”, still languishes in a Pakistan jail. Surely the US could insist, as a condition of any U.S. aid, that this decent man be allowed safe travel to the U.S.? He will never be safe in Pakistan. If released from prison he would be in constant peril from the latest excitable street mob who are more than sympathetic to the Taliban and the legacy of bin Laden.
Besides its sympathies with the Taliban, it is Pakistan’s atrocious treatment of its minorities, particularly Christians, which warrants the cutting of all aid. Rahat John Austin writing for New York’s Gatestone Institute (January 28, 2018) describes living in Pakistan as a hell for non-Muslims:
“In Pakistan, Muslims burn the homes of non-Muslims, burn their places of worship, burn their holy books, even burn their women and children alive – and there is no law or punishment to prevent this criminal behaviour or to make non-Muslims safe.
“Non-Muslim women and children are raped and forcibly converted; this is considered a religious obligation to please ‘Allah’, the god of Islam. These taskmasters see themselves as ‘Soldiers of Allah’. Even if a case of ‘blasphemy’ is not proven against Christians, they still can be killed by an angry mob or while in police custody. Non-Muslims can also easily be sentenced to death by a court: even a single claim by Muslim against a non-Muslim is enough to ‘prove’ him guilty.”
According to Pakistan’s 2017 census, as of August 25, 2017, the population of Islamic Republic of Pakistan was 207.74 million. The country is divided into an overwhelmingly Muslim majority of 96.28%, the tiny remainder being 3.72% and consisting of Christians, Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, Ahmadis, Jains, Kalasha, Parsis and Sikhs. At the time of the Subcontinent’s partition in 1947, almost 23% of the territory that became were other than Muslims. Today, to repeat, it is a scant 3.72%. So where have non-Muslim minorities gone and why have they vanished? Take the Hindu population, for example. The 1951 census put their numbers at 12.9%, yet today only 1.6% of respondents list themselves as Hindus. Like all other religious minorities they are grimly aware that daring not to follow Islam means accepting daily discrimination and the ever-present prospect of sudden death as part of everyday life.
It is routine to hear of girls from Christian, Hindu or other minority communities being raped, killed and forcibly “converted”. One accuser’s claim of having witnessed “blasphemy” can and will prompt instant mobs bent on murder. Should the person survive they are likely to be charged and incarcerated for the same “crime. Non-Muslim men, women or children are sentenced to death for supposed blasphemies.
Muslims torch non-believers’ homes, destroy their places of worship and holy books, even burn alive their women and children – and there is never punishment for those attacking non-Muslims. No one who speaks for the victims of this intolerance and abuse According to Islamic doctrine and which verses adherents prefer to consult, the best non-Muslims can expect is to to be resentfully tolerated; the worst to be murdered, which many are. Nor can they expect justice. The author is not aware of even a single instance in the 71 years since the creation of Pakistan of anyone being punished for an attack on a non-Muslim man, woman or child. Repeat, not one. Fostering hatred for non-Muslims is a part of the school curriculum and inculcated at every level of the education system. Children are instructed from an early age that Christians, Jews and Hindus are enemies of Islam and a good Muslim grows up to fight them, which is said to be pleasing to “Allah”.
One might imagine that the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan could not be worse, but every day there are more attacks to refute even that sad hope, as recently corroborated by briefing papers from the Pew Research Center and from Open Doors USA. The reports say that Pakistan is the fourth most dangerous country for Christians after North Korea, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Many Muslim hardline clerics, politicians and even Supreme Court judges often say – publicly on national television no less – that Pakistan was made “by Muslims and is only for Muslims” with no place for non-believers. On August 8, 2017, the Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, in an address to the Multan Bar Council, lawyers and the judiciary, said that he hated Hindus so much that he did not want even the names of non-Muslims on his tongue. His speech was broadcast live on almost all television stations. Not a single channel’s subsequent commentary found fault with his words. Nisar is an equal-opportunity bigot, having also refused to let Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, who has been on death row for ten years for supposed “blasphemy”, have an earlier court date for the final appeal. As columnist Rita Panahi commented:
“When Bibi, working in the field on a scorching day, was asked to bring a water from a well, she committed the alleged blasphemy of drinking some of the water from the cup. Another female farmhand, who already had a feud with Bibi, claimed she had ‘soiled’ the utensil and the water supply with her unclean, Christian hands. Bibi was accused of ‘defiling the water’. ‘For once,’ Bibi recounted, in her memoir, Blasphemy: Sentenced to Death Over A Cup of Water, ‘I decided to defend myself and hold my head high.’ I said, ‘I think Jesus would have a different viewpoint to Mohammad.’ The woman replied, ‘How do you dare to question the Prophet, dirty animal?’ … Soon a mob confronted Bibi and her family before the police arrived …. Many accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are not so fortunate and are killed before they are formally charged.”
Rather than aid and support victims of persecution, Pakistan’s institutions encourage it while simultaneously funding Islamic fundamentalists who see their scourging of religious minorities as the glorious work of Allah’s soldiers. Madrasa Haqania, for instance, is the birthplace of the Taliban. Known as the “University of Jihad”, its students are the leaders of the groups involved in bomb attacks on churches.
Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province, criticised the abuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. For this he was murdered by his own bodyguard in 2011. Rashid Rehman was a lawyer who agreed to take on a blasphemy case. He was gunned down by two men who walked into his office posing as clients.
This is the country to which Australia gave $AUD47 million in “official development assistance” in 2017-2018.
If Julie Bishop wishes to lift her record as foreign minister, to be remembered by history as someone capable of an act of principle, she should cut Pakistan from our foreign aid budget.
Babette Francis is national and overseas coordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an NGO having special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. She has lived in areas of pre-Partition India which subsequently became Pakistan.