Ever since my friend, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, branded British foreign policy towards aid to Pakistan as ‘anti-Christian’, I’ve been trying to think through the issues. To say that it is ‘anti-Christian’ does to me something of an over-statement – or rather risks addressing the wrong target.
But just to be clear, no over-statement does justice to the dreadful reality of what is happening in Pakistan and the working out of their notorious blasphemy laws. You may not have seen the astonishingly forthright Times article by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Responding to the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, he refers to Pakistan and says, ‘In the history of some countries there comes a period when political and factional murder becomes almost routine — Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, Germany and its neighbours in the early 1930s.’ You can read the full article here.
At the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin, I had the privilege of getting to know Archbishop Samuel Azariah of the Church in Pakistan – a modest and unassuming person of great courage. That friendship brings these issues closer to me as I picture the difficulties and dangers with which he, his clergy and people live on a daily basis. The Primates agreed to send a private letter to the leaders of Pakistan expressing our feelings about the application of the blasphemy laws.
But it seems to me that the issue here is really about aid budgets – and in particular about whether aid budgets should be an instrument of foreign policy. I understand that what is at stake here is far more than just the minutiae of foreign policy – there are fundamental issues of human rights being denied, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. How could one not feel that the provision of aid should be made dependent on a commitment to the even the most basic of human rights? And yet there is something of a slippery slope here – which, as I have suggested, can lead to connections being made between the provision of aid and all kinds of other issues. Better I think to keep them separate. If aid is required, let us provide aid. If human rights are being denied, let us say that in the most vigorous terms – directly to the government of Pakistan, in the United Nations and elsewhere.