Debate Over Whether to Specify Religion on Passports Highlights Tensions

January 7, 2005

Source: The New York Times

On January 7, 2005 The New York Times reported, "A heated dispute over whether new Pakistani passports should specify the bearer's religious affiliation has underlined the problems President Pervez Musharraf faces in projecting Pakistan as a moderate Islamic state. The controversy is the latest between Mr. Musharraf and hard-line Islamists opposed to his support for the American-led campaign against terror and suspicious of what they see as moves toward creating a secular state. The dispute erupted after the government issued new machine-readable passports in October. In line with international standards, the passports do not include a column specifying the holder's religion. Previously, Pakistani passports required bearers to state whether they were Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or followers of other religions. The change enraged Islamists who saw it as a threat to Pakistan's identity as an Islamic state and they have vowed protests to force the government to reverse it."