In his first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah made a promise. “You are free," he said. "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Sixty seven years since the nation’s birth, many would debate the veracity of this claim. On a dusky morning in Lahore, as the call to prayer fills the air, and mosques fill with the faithful, the scattered temples sit idle, even abandoned. They project an overwhelming sense of absence.

It is from this difficult environment that the Pakistani writer Haroon Khalid emerged with his most recent book, A White Trail: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities. (Read Haroon Khalid's dispatch about a Hindu temple in northern Pakistan here.)

Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Baha’i and Parsis all join the sombre roll-call of the 3% of Pakistan’s population that is not Muslim. Khalid journeyed deep into these communities, seeking to go beyond the headline stories of sectarian violence so he could document the nuances of living in a state defined by a religion other than their own.

“Minorities are looked at through the prism of the two-nation theory,” said Khalid. “Many minorities face suspicion. Pakistan was founded as a home for Muslims, so some people look at them [religious minorities] and wonder, ‘Why are they here?’”

These suspicions, besides providing fodder for extremist groups, create a perhaps equally toxic environment of distrust at the community level, one that forces religious minorities into what Khalid calls a state of political hyper-awareness.

“While Islam is seen as the state religion [of Pakistan], minority faiths become associated with other nations, regardless of those countries declaring themselves as secular," he said. "Therefore, Hindus and Sikhs are seen as being closer to India, and Indian culture, while Christians are associated with 'the West' and America.”

Such perceptions can rapidly morph into violence, even in communities that are typically peaceful, when news reaches of sectarian trouble in distant places. Khalid says that violence targeting Muslims often results in a curious, sometimes deadly form of retaliation. This in turn leads to minorities feeling pressurised into responding to international events.

“After the Babri Masjid incident in India, you saw corresponding violence against Hindus in Pakistan by those who wanted revenge," he said. "The same is the case when you have conflicts with America, when the response is typically some sort of attack against Christians. As a result, members of these communities have actually started to preempt international events that they could be blamed for, by coming out in protest on such occasions.”

Khalid explains that Sikh and Hindu leaders in Pakistan rush to organise protests when tensions with India arise. In some extreme cases, even a cricket match between the two countries becomes an occasion for minority-group leaders to hold prayer-sessions for the Pakistani team.

Likewise, the country’s Christian leaders are often the first to come out in support of Pakistan, and Islam, when tensions arise on the international scene. One popular instance, when American Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Qur'an, saw Pakistani Christians mobilising some of the country’s first protests on the matter.

“They knew they would be the ones to suffer, so in the interests of self-preservation they became the first to protest," he said. "It’s a strange phenomenon, one that leads minorities to feel as though they need to constantly prove their loyalty to the state.”

Constant displays of patriotism, as prerequisite to being treated equally, can prove to be problematic, of course. Khalid draws a parallel to similar cases in India, where Muslims have often staged protests against Pakistan at the nearest sign of tensions. In such cases, the expediency of protest is often an indicator of just how threatened the minority group in question feels.

But even in settings in which violence does not appear to be imminent, the need to fit in can lead many to adopt novel strategies of self-preservation.

“Many religious minorities, particularly Hindus, will have dual names," Khalid said. "They’ll have a Hindu name which they use amongst their family and immediate relations, and will acquire a Muslim name, so as to not stick out at school, or other such places.”

Khalid gives specific reference in his book to instances in which entire Hindu families will have official documents referring to their Muslim names. For this reason, he is quick to point out the potential flaws in many official statistics on religious minorities in Pakistan.

Flawed or not, statistics do speak to the level at which Pakistan’s religious minorities feel safe to reveal their faith. However their efforts to get by and build something close to a normal life will continue, of that Khalid is sure.

“Papers are not what matters to most now," he said. "What matters are the practices. Many continue their cultural and religious practices at home, amongst their family. For them, that is what’s important.”