Just when it seemed relations between the US and Pakistan couldn’t get worse, a new wrinkle has developed, this time over US sponsorship of a gay pride event in Islamabad.
Conservative religious groups in Pakistan have sharply criticized the US Embassy in Islamabad for sponsoring the country’s first ever gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pride celebration on June 26. They described the event as “cultural terrorism” and the second most dangerous attack on the country by the US after the drone and missile strikes that have that have killed civilians in addition to their intended insurgent targets. Officials at the US Embassy there said in a statement that the event, co-sponsored by Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies “… demonstrated continued US Embassy support for human rights, including LGBT rights, in Pakistan at a time when those rights are increasingly under attack from extremist elements throughout Pakistani society.”
Deputy Chief of Mission Ambassador Richard Hoagland reaffirmed US commitment to a proclamation signed by President Barack Obama May 31 that, “we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I want to be clear: the US Embassy is here to support you and stand by your side every step of the way.”
There has been no comment on the event by Pakistan government officials but the flap may fuel public resentment of US dealings in the country. The two governments already are at odds over fallout from the secret US attack in Abbottabad in which Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden was killed May 2, and civilian deaths from unmanned Predator drone aircraft and missile attacks in remote areas where Al Qaeda and other insurgents are hiding.
Whether the criticisms over the gay rights celebration will gain traction with the Pakistan public remains to be seen. Already it has generated debate on Internet blogs. Islamist groups held rallies in major cities Monday at which US sponsorship of the event was denounced.
Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, issued a biting statement on behalf of various conservative religious groups.
It said homosexuals “…don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani, and the support and protection announced by the US administration for them is the worst social and cultural terrorism against Pakistan,” according to an Associated Press translation. “Such people are the curse of society and social garbage.”
“We condemn the American conspiracy to encourage bisexualism in our country,” said Mohammad Hussain Mehnati, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami during one of the rallies.
“They have destroyed us physically, imposed the so-called war on terrorism on us and now they have unleashed cultural terrorism on us,” he said. “This meeting shows cruel America has unleashed a storm of immoral values on our great Islamic values, which we’ll resist at all costs,” Mr. Mehnati said.
Pakistan’s constitution does not deal with homosexuality directly but does say that Islam is the official state religion, and all laws, rules, regulations and other such legislation must be compatible with Islam. Homosexuality is illegal under Sharia laws introduced in the country in 1990, punishable by public flogging or imprisonment.
Nonetheless, the country seems to be softening some of its official treatment homosexuals. Earlier this year Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled to allow a third gender category on national identity cards.
“Previously, we were having two categories, male and female, for registration,” Brigadier Ehsan ul-Haq, who manages the national database in Karachi, said at the time. “This (homosexual) community agitated for a separate identity of their own. They went to the Supreme Court, the court agreed and we will implement it.”
Pakistan does not, however, recognize marriage or civil unions by homosexuals and homosexually is socially and religiously ostracized in most areas of the country.
The Obama administration’s projection of its philosophy on homosexuality in Pakistan comes at a time when the US itself is wrestling with questions of rights for homosexuals. States are debating whether to recognize same sex marriages and the military is divided on whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces.
Seven states and one district currently allow same marriages. Other states recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and some states offer civil unions of same sex couples that afford some of the legal benefits and protections of marriage.
Twenty states outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation while twelve others prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are punishable by federal law.
By Nathaniel Sheppard
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