Threatened by murder, kidnapping and intimidation, Christians are coming under pressure both from lawlessness and from Islamic radicalism in Pakistan`s North West Frontier Province which borders Afghanistan. Most recently, on January 17th a church minister, Sajid William, was shot dead in Peshawar, the capital city of the province.
Over recent years the North West Frontier Province has steadily become a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. The strength of Islamic radicalism throughout Pakistan was recently indicated by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. As well as the murder of Sajid William, there have been many recent attacks on the North West Frontier Province's Christians. There have been several cases in recent months of Christians being kidnapped in the province, often by militants or criminals linked to Taliban, who demand ransoms or the release of militants held in Pakistani jails. Christian schools have suffered bomb attacks for failing to adhere to Islamic values. The continuing persecution of Christians in the province was shown by the series of threats made against Christians in 2007 to convert to Islam or be killed. [Links]
The North West Frontier Province is home to a tiny Christian minority comprising just 0.25% of the province`s population. (This compares with a Christian population of around 2.5% in Pakistan as a whole.) The increasing power of the Taliban in the region and the failure of central government to control the area have meant that Christians are becoming exposed to increasing danger. In 2003 provincial legislators unanimously passed a bill giving shari`a (Islamic law) precedence over secular provincial law. Militants have also enforced an unofficial parallel justice system based on extreme versions of shari`a. This has placed great pressure on minorities.
Christians blamed for acts of radical criminal gangs
The situation for Christians is increasingly difficult throughout all of Pakistan. A Barnabas contact in the Punjab region, which borders India, recently explained that in one village criminal gangs, linked to the Islamist radical group Lashkar-i-Taiba, have been trying to pass the blame for their crimes on to Christians. The police have colluded with the criminals in blaming the Christians for crimes they did not commit. Christians, therefore, feel very vulnerable as the authorities are not willing to protect them.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan the growing threat to Christians was highlighted by the recent killing of the elder brother of Younis Tasadaq in January. Younis Tasadaq had been accused under the "blasphemy law" in 1998, but was released and managed to escape to America in 1999. In 2007 he returned to Pakistan, and it is believed that Islamic radicals discovered he was back in the country and assassinated his brother, Simon, whom they mistook for Younis. So far police have refused to register the case, claiming it was suicide.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments:
"Christian minorities in Pakistan need our prayers, especially the beleaguered Christians of the North West Frontier Province, who face the pressure of shari`a as well as the violence of Islamic militants. I am thankful to the Lord for their faithfulness and courage in the face of such sustained pressure."