On 25 April 2024, the House of Lords will consider the following question for short debate:

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) to ask His Majesty’s Government how UK aid is used to support minorities in Pakistan.

1. Current provision of UK aid to Pakistan

The UK government describes Pakistan as an “important regional and strategic partner”, with a relationship based on culture, shared history, diplomacy, development, security, trade, and the economy.[1]

The UK provides Pakistan’s third largest source of foreign direct investment. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) allocated official development assistance (ODA) budget to Pakistan for the financial year 2023/24 was £41.54mn, and its indicative ODA budget for the financial year 2024/25 is due to rise significantly to £133mn.[2]

The FCDO’s ODA allocation to Pakistan is broken down by thematic area as follows.

Figure 1. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office ODA allocation to Pakistan, 2023–24

Figure 1 shows FCDO ODA allocation to Pakistan, 2023–24: British international development 15%, women and girls 22%, humanitarian 30%, and climate change, nature and global health 33%.
(Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK-Pakistan development partnership summary’, 17 July 2023)

Of the above, the FCDO notes that 56% of programmes are marked as being principally or significantly focused on promoting gender equality and 26% of programmes are marked as being principally or significantly focused on disability inclusion.

The government contends that its partnership with Pakistan is in transition from a traditional aid relationship to a mutually beneficial partnership, “reflecting Pakistan’s status as a lower middle-income country, and the country’s growing status as strategic trade and investment partner”.[3] It states that the UK-Pakistan development partnership is focused on addressing “critical structural issues”, including population dynamics, climate vulnerability, gender equality and macroeconomic stability. In particular, in July 2023 it flagged the following issues as pressing concerns:

According to the World Bank Human Capital Review 2022, Pakistan’s Human Capital Index (HCI) has a value of 0.41 which is low in both absolute and relative terms […]. It is home to 9% of the world’s out-of-school children—more than 22 million—and it has the third highest number of new-born deaths in the world. Five million more people are added to Pakistan’s population yearly—the world’s fifth most populous nation. Fast population growth exacerbates low levels of human development and holds back economic growth. Pakistan’s economy is going through a turbulent period which requires continued structural reforms to stabilise the economy, ensure debt sustainability and create opportunities for its growing labour force. An additional 1.7 million jobs are required every year to provide employment to young people. The Covid-19 pandemic and the floods of 2022 had a negative impact on Pakistan’s growth, pushing the country’s most vulnerable further into poverty. Pakistan is also the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change disasters (assessed pre-floods) and gender inequality is a major brake on development—Pakistan performs poorly on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2022.[4]

The government maintains that the UK has supported Pakistan to address its development challenges over the last two decades and that its support is aligned with Pakistan’s long-term development strategies focusing on human capital (health, education, gender equality), improving governance and human rights, macroeconomic stability and trade, and building climate resilience.

As part of this work, ministers have said that the UK’s goal is to support Pakistan to become “a more open society”, in which the rights of women and girls, minorities, persons with disabilities and vulnerable groups are better protected, the government is held to account, and the state is better able to manage interconnected crises and be accountable to its citizens.[5]

2. Is the UK government doing enough to support marginalised and minority communities in Pakistan?

2.1 Challenges faced by marginalised and minority groups in Pakistan

Despite the assistance that the UK has provided to Pakistan, there is a question as to whether this aid has been sufficiently targeted to assist marginalised and minority communities in the country.

In 2022, the House of Commons International Development Committee conducted an inquiry into UK aid spending in Pakistan.[6] The committee noted how UK aid funding to Pakistan had fallen in historic terms. It said that Pakistan has been a priority country for the UK’s development spending, and that between 2015 and 2019 it was the largest single recipient of bilateral UK ODA. However, the committee noted that UK aid funding to the country had “been cut dramatically” since that period. According to recent statistics published by the FCDO on final aid spend in 2022, Pakistan was ninth on the list of bilateral ODA recipients as shown below.

Figure 2. UK bilateral ODA by recipient countries in 2022

UK bilateral ODA by recipient countries in 2022. Pakistan is 9th (£58mn)
(Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Statistics on international development: Final UK aid spend 2022’, 10 April 2024)

The committee argued this funding reduction (notwithstanding plans for the government to increase spending in the forthcoming financial year) makes how the UK targets its aid all the more important, particularly with regard to minority and marginalised communities.

The committee found that marginalised groups—such as women and girls, and religious minorities—faced significant barriers within Pakistan, inhibiting their prospects for development. It said these barriers were especially notable for women and girls from minority communities, arguing that this not only held back the potential of these groups, but also slowed down Pakistan’s broader development.

Though noting the positive change that UK aid had created through projects focused on girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment, for example, the committee said increasing need and cuts to UK ODA spending reduced the funding available to tackle these problems. The committee argued that the reduction in aid to Pakistan was “at odds with core UK government development policy objectives”. In response, the committee argued that the FCDO should use its aid programming “strategically in Pakistan to focus upon reaching the most marginalised groups”. It encouraged the FCDO to fund programmes such as education and economic empowerment for women and girls in the most hard to reach communities, as well as programmes that reinforce this work (for example programmes focused upon nutrition and sexual and reproductive health). The committee also recommended that the FCDO directed its aid spending towards programmes “to improve the treatment of religious minorities, and [back] this up with diplomatic action”.

2.2 Treatment of particular religious communities in Pakistan

The challenges faced by religious minorities in Pakistan has received further attention in recent months following concern around the treatment of various religious communities such as Christians and Ahmadi (or Ahmadiyya) Muslims in the country.

In February 2023, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) published a report funded by the European Union which expressed “considerable alarm” over the state of religious freedom in the country.[7] Among the developments it argued belied the Pakistani government’s commitment to freedom of religion, it observed:

The incidence of forced conversions in Sindh [particularly of kidnapped Hindu women and girls being forced to marry Muslim men] has remained worryingly consistent. Reports of religious minorities’ sites of worship being desecrated have continued, but with no response from the state when such incidents involve sites associated with the Ahmadiyya community. In Punjab [in the northwest], the mandatory declaration of faith for marriage certificates has further marginalised the Ahmadiyya community, while attempts to enforce a standardised national curriculum have created an exclusionary narrative that sidelines Pakistan’s religious minorities.

The Ahmadiyya religious movement originated in India in the 19th century, founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.[8] According to a 2005 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the Ahmadiyya community “believes that Ahmad conceived the community as a revivalist movement within Islam and not as a new religion”, and “members of the Ahmadiyya community (‘Ahmadis’) profess to be Muslims”. However, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “many Muslims consider Ahmadiyya Muslims to be heretics”.[9]

The House of Commons Library notes that, as well as defining major religious groups such as Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists as non-Muslim, article 260 of Pakistan’s constitution also defines a non-Muslim as “a person of the Quadiani group or Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis or by any other name)”.[10] The Pakistani state requires Ahmadis to declare themselves as non-Muslims in certain administrative processes. A March 2023 human rights report on Pakistan by the US State Department states that “passport applicants must list their religious affiliation, and those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe the Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet and denounce the founder of the Ahmadi movement as a false prophet”. When registering to vote Pakistanis must also sign a similar declaration and the State Department report states that “many [Ahmadis] were unable to vote because they did not comply with this requirement”.

HRW has also raised concerns over the treatment of Ahmadis in Pakistan. Reporting in 2023, it said:

Members of the Ahmadiyya religious community continue to be a major target for prosecutions under blasphemy laws and specific anti-Ahmadi laws. Militant groups and the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) accuse Ahmadis of “posing as Muslims”. Pakistan’s penal code also treats “posing as Muslims” as a criminal offense. On July 25 [2023], a mob vandalized an Ahmadiyya place of worship in Karachi, Sindh province. On August 18 [2023], a mob attacked a factory owned by an Ahmadi in Lahore, accusing him of blasphemy. Instead of prosecuting the attackers, the authorities charged eight members of Ahmadi community with blasphemy.[11]

In addition, the HRW reported violent attacks on Christian communities in Pakistan. It recorded that on 16 August 2023 “several hundred people attacked a Christian settlement in Faisalabad district, Punjab province, after two members of the community were accused of committing blasphemy”.[12] It reported that a mob, armed with stones and sticks, vandalised several churches, dozens of houses, and a cemetery. HRW claim that, while the police arrested 130 people alleged to have been involved in the attacks, residents told “local rights activists that hours before the attack the police warned them a mob was coming but claimed they could do nothing to stop it”.[13]

The International Development Committee voiced similar concerns over the treatment of minority religious communities in Pakistan, and over the use “and misuse” of blasphemy laws.[14] It said that witnesses to the committee had reported that the laws were “frequently used as means of settling personal disputes and as a means of targeting religious minorities”. It added that claims of blasphemy were often not supported by adequate evidence and could lead to violence towards the accused and the accused’s family. The committee recommended that the FCDO should encourage the Pakistani government to take a more rigorous approach towards evidence collection for these crimes and to offer greater protection for people accused of blasphemy and their families.

On freedom of religion more widely, the committee also said that the FCDO should ensure that programmes that they fund are fully inclusive and make a particular effort to reach religious minorities. It said the FCDO should also undertake a religious diversity audit of UK aid programmes in Pakistan.

3. UK government position on provision of aid to minorities in Pakistan

The government responded to the International Development Committee’s report in November 2022.[15] In it, the government reiterated that it had delivered effective development assistance to Pakistan over several years which had “advanced both Pakistan’s development, and our own objectives on shared values, including girls and women, inclusion, religious and media freedom and gender inequality”. The government also said it had focused on promoting jobs, growth and trade and supporting climate resilience in one of the countries most affected globally by climate change.

The government acknowledged that the size of the UK development portfolio has “reduced significantly” over the last five years, but said this was in line with Pakistan’s development. Again, it said that the current level of ODA funding reflected Pakistan’s status as a lower middle-income country in transition towards financing its own development. It said that the government’s objective in Pakistan was to move from a traditional aid relationship to a mature development partnership, working together on shared development priorities.

Going forward, the government said it would “streamline our development approach towards Pakistan”. This would mean that the FCDO would “run fewer, smaller, less complex, more flexible, and agile development objectives that will serve [His Majesty’s Government’s] priorities and respond to Pakistan’s development needs”. It added that the government would seek to maintain high impact, “through switching from direct delivery to influencing Pakistani policy and systems” and said it would “maintain interventions that benefit girls and women, and which focus on marginalised and minority communities”.

Since that time, as noted above, the government has pledged to increase the aid that it supplies to Pakistan, with investment rising to a planned £133mn in 2024/25. Ministers have also said that the government engages regularly with Pakistan to promote minority rights and freedom of religion:

The UK regularly engages with the Government of Pakistan at a senior level to promote minority rights and freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). We prioritise our aid to achieve maximum impact for the people of Pakistan in line with our strategic priorities, including promoting FoRB. Our Accountability, Inclusion and Reducing Modern Slavery programme (£39.5mn over the period 2018–2024) brings together community leaders and minority representatives to promote tolerance. Our Hate Speech and Disinformation programme (£4.2mn over the period 2022–2025) is working to protect marginalised communities from hate speech online. The UK’s programme of support for education has helped thousands of children from religious minorities attend school and gain skills (£130mn over the period 2023–2027). Our bilateral ODA budget in financial year 2023/24 is £41.5mn. This is set to more than triple, to £133mn, next year.[16]

Among the UK government’s top three bilateral aid programmes according to budgeted expenditure for 2023/24 are also initiatives targeted at women and girls in Pakistan:

  • Delivering accelerated family planning in Pakistan (DAFPAK) which aims to increase access to quality family planning information and services, particularly to underserved groups such as rural women. Since 2017, it has supported about 8 million women and girls to access family planning services in four provinces and is currently advancing the policy agenda on demography.
  • Girls and out of school action for learning (GOAL) which will support the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to improve education outcomes for girls and the most marginalised. Since 2011, over 11 million children (5.5 million girls) in primary school and nearly 6 million children (2.5 million girls) in secondary school have benefited from UK support.
  • Revenue mobilisation, investment and trade (REMIT) which, through provision of high-quality technical assistance, will support Pakistan to implement reforms that lock in macroeconomic stability and improve conditions for high and sustained growth, mutual prosperity, job creation and poverty reduction.[17]

In response to a separate written parliamentary question, ministers also said that they condemned violence against religious groups in Pakistan:

The UK government strongly condemns the violence faced by religious minorities in Pakistan. I [Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, minister for South Asia] condemned recent attacks against religious minorities in my meetings with Pakistan’s caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani on 13 September [2023], and Pakistani High Commissioner Mohammed Faisal on 6 September [2023]. UK aid in Pakistan continues to support projects promoting the rights of religious minorities. Our Aawaz II programme brings together community leaders and minority representatives to promote tolerance. The British High Commission recently attended the Aawaz interfaith dialogue in Lahore, which convened key stakeholders from across Punjab following the attacks against Christians in Jaranwala. Our hate speech and disinformation programme is working to protect marginalised communities from hate speech online.[18]

Lord Alton of Liverpool has also raised the voting rights of those in the Ahmadi community in Pakistan with UK ministers. In response, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the UK government would continue to raise these issues with the Pakistani authorities:

On 22 March [2024] I met with Pakistan’s newly-appointed Foreign Secretary Ishaq Dar to discuss the inclusivity of the elections and the rights of religious minorities. We will continue to raise human rights issues affecting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in engagements with the new government and reaffirm the importance of Pakistan respecting the voting rights of all religious communities.[19]

4. Read more

Cover image by DFID on Flickr.


  1. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK-Pakistan development partnership summary’, 17 July 2023. Return to text
  2. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK-Pakistan development partnership summary’, 17 July 2023; and House of Lords, ‘Written question: Pakistan: Development aid (HL2063)’, 14 February 2024. It should be noted that these figures do not reflect the full range of UK ODA spending in Pakistan as this does not include spend delivered via core contributions to multilateral organisations, or regional programmes delivered by the FCDO’s central departments. The government also notes that other UK government departments spend a large amount of ODA overseas. Return to text
  3. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK-Pakistan development partnership summary’, 17 July 2023. Return to text
  4. As above. Return to text
  5. As above. Return to text
  6. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘UK aid to Pakistan’, 29 April 2022, HC 102 of session 2021–22. Return to text
  7. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, ‘A breach of faith: Freedom of religion or belief in 2021–22’, February 2023. Return to text
  8. House of Commons Library, ‘Treatment of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan’, 15 March 2024. Return to text
  9. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, ‘Ahmadiyya Muslims’, October 2021. Return to text
  10. House of Commons Library, ‘Treatment of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan’, 15 March 2024. Return to text
  11. Human Rights Watch, ‘Pakistan: Events of 2023’, 2024. Return to text
  12. As above. Return to text
  13. As above. Return to text
  14. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘UK aid to Pakistan’, 29 April 2022, HC 102 of session 2021–22. Return to text
  15. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘UK aid to Pakistan: Government response to the sixth report of the committee, session 2021–22’, 4 November 2022. Return to text
  16. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Pakistan: Minority groups (201381)’, 23 October 2023. Return to text
  17. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK-Pakistan development partnership summary’, 17 July 2023. Return to text
  18. House of Lords, ‘Written question: Pakistan: Religious freedom (HL10090)’, 26 September 2023. Return to text
  19. House of Lords, ‘Written question: Pakistan: Ahmadiyya (HL3227)’, 28 March 2024. Return to text