In a novel initiative involving government support, a Christmas Peace Train journeyed through Pakistan over the Christmas period with the aim of promoting inter-faith harmony. The festively decorated train, including a nativity scene as well as a cross, began its journey in Islamabad on 22 December, in the north of Pakistan, and finished in the south at Karachi on New Year’s Eve. It stopped at key stations along the way where it was met by crowds of people. Pakistan Railways, the Human Rights Commission and the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation worked together to launch the train. The government’s central role in the initiative, and their respectful recognition of a major Christian celebration, is an enormously encouraging gesture to the country’s minority Christian population.
At a press conference to launch the train, Saad Rafique, Pakistan’s Minister for Railways, paid tribute to the role minority groups play in society, especially Christians. “The white colour of our national flag denotes minority groups, and it is incomplete without them,” he said, adding, “Our constitution guarantees the equal rights to all citizens living in this country. We need to hold the hands of each other to touch prosperity and success.” Painted on the train’s carriages were excerpts from Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s famous speech in August 1947 when, under his leadership, Pakistan became an independent state. Jinnah, known as the founding father of Pakistan, emphasised in his speech that Pakistani citizens of all religions should be treated equally.
Christians have become increasingly marginalised in Pakistan in recent years. Whilst there remains much to be done to address the range of injustices many encounter across the country, the Christmas train (the first of its kind in Pakistan) is a welcome move that affirms the presence of Christians as a community.