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Catholic peer urges Government to pressure Pakistan to stop persecution of Christians

Pakistani Christians mourn after 12 people were killed in a suicide attack on a church in Lahore (AP)

A Catholic peer has called upon the Government to exert greater pressure on Pakistan to stop the persecution of Christians after it admitted that a controversial scheme to “export the dole” involves larger sums of money than previously revealed.

MPs reacted in anger when the press revealed that “up to £300 million” of British taxes was to be given away at Pakistani cashpoints over eight years.

But now Lord Bates, the Minister for International Development, has revealed the figure is in fact far greater.

A total of £420.3 million will be distributed in Pakistan through the Benazir Income Support Programme, he said.

This represents a figure more than 40 per cent larger than the huge sum of money previously reported.

The startling admission came in a written response to a question submitted by Lord Alton of Liverpool, a Catholic crossbench peer. 

Lord Alton said he asked the question because he believed the Government was failing to be rigorous in bringing to a halt the persecution of Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis, a minority Muslim sect.

“I think there is extraordinary indifference to their plight,” he said. “That’s why I raised it. I don’t think there is enough accountability in how this money is being used.”

He continued: “It is about ensuring we get value for money creating the conditions in which minorities are not hunted down like animals.”

The former Liberal Democrat MP said he had been shocked by the treatment of persecuted Pakistani Christians and Ahmadis he had met in immigration detention centres in Bangkok, Thailand.

He said: “Having seen for myself where fleeing Christians and Ahmadis are incarcerated having fled persecution in Pakistan, I am not convinced the money we are spending is fundamentally changing the way that persecuted minorities are treated and they should be our highest priority.”

Lord Bates, in his answer to Lord Alton, revealed that the UK aid bill to Pakistan over the last decade totalled £2.324 billion.

“Between 2012 and 2020, DFID Department for International Development has earmarked £420.3 million to the Government of Pakistan’s Benazir Income Support Programme,” Lord Bates said.

“£120m of this was provided between 2014 and 2016 through the Stability and Growth Programme.”

“This was an earmarked sum within a Financial Aid package linked to an IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme,” he added. 

“Funding is only disbursed if robust Disbursement Linked Indicators are met.”

The Benazir scheme allows about 235,000 families to pocket payments every three months to boost their incomes, courtesy of UK taxpayers. 

Recipients can draw the cash from an ATM and spend it how they wish.

In spite of concerns that the scheme carried a high risk of corruption, ministers intend to expand it to 441,000 Pakistani households by 2020. 

Pakistan is a major recipient of British aid in spite of the country investing in a space programme and a nuclear arsenal of between 110 and 130 warheads.

Yet the persecution of Pakistani Christians also continues unabated with several horrific new cases emerging each week.

They include the rape of a three-year-old Christian girl in Bahawalnagar last month, allegedly by a Muslim man who has since been arrested.

Earlier this week, Muslim arsonists set fire to the home of Rehmat Masih, 67, and his 25-year-old daughter Sajida and her four-year-old son Chanda were asleep in the house in Bahud Pura in Kasur. 

On Saturday, police in Gujranwala raided the home of Mukhtar Masih, 70, after he was accused of blasphemy. 

Officers pulled him and his family out of bed after 10pm and took all of them into custody, including an eight-year-old child.

In Pakistan, Christians are often falsely accused of insulting Muhammed or desecrating the Koran and can face execution or long periods of imprisonment under the country’s notorious blasphemy law, or the risk of lynching if they are released.

Masih has been charged with an offence which carries a 10 year jail sentence but the charges against him could be increased during court hearings to include offences punishable by hanging.

In a letter to Lord Alton of January 11, Alok Sharma, Foreign Office Minister for Asia and the Pacific, insisted that the Government “regularly” raised concerns about the persecution of minorities with Pakistani counterparts “at senior level”.

“I would like to assure you of our continued commitment to supporting the government of Pakistan in building a more secure, prosperous and democratic country where the rights of all citizens are respected regardless of faith, ethnicity or belief,” he wrote.