Pakistan’s military and the militant Taliban group clashed in the country’s strategic Swat Valley Wednesday, May 6, adding to fears among minority Christians and forcing thousands of civilians to flee the area, reports FCNN.

Some 40,000 people reportedly fled the city of Mingora in northwestern Pakistan and officials said a further half a million others were expected to leave as well. Wednesday’s clashes came shortly after the Taliban threatened to expand Sharia, or Muslim law, far beyond Swat Valley and reports of massive Muslim attacks against minority Christians, including murder and rape.

Since late April, militants of the Taliban group executed at least two residents in a Christian neighborhood while one child died during a crackdown on believers who protested against the Talibanization of Pakistan, local Christians and rights investigators confirmed to BosNewsLife.

United States-based International Christian Concern (ICC), which investigates cases of persecution, said the incidents happened April 21, in Taseer Town near the city of Karachi, where Christians protested against pro-Taliban messages “chalked onto the walls of two churches.”

Earlier, on the outskirts of Sargodha, a key city in Punjab province, a Christian young man was shot and killed and another Christian boy sexually molested by at least one suspected militant, although his links to the Taliban could not be established, family sources said.


Many bullets

On April 19, Adeel Masih, 20, was “sprayed with bullets” after returning home from work in Marrium Town near Sargodha, and died of his injuries at a local hospital, said his father Iqbal Masih. At the same time a suspected Muslim militant, identified only as Israar, allegedly raped a 10-year-old Christian boy, Waseem Sabir, in a field of Marrium Towm, residents said.

The man apparently managed to flee, but police promised to investigate both cases. Elsewhere, a nine-year-old Pakistani Christian girl was gang-raped and murdered on April 9, Christian right investigators said. Nisha Javid was reportedly abducted while walking near her home in Punjab’s Essangri village. Her battered body was found two days later in a canal, but local Christians say police has been reluctant to detain suspects. Another Christian girl in her early teens was gang raped by Muslim men twice in as many months here in the village of Gumhe-k-Lidhur near Punjab’s main city of Lahore, according to local residents.

Ambreen Munir 13, a daughter of an impoverished Christian laborer and a house wife, was allegedly kidnapped twice since February by Muslim youth, who took her to a lonely neighborhood where they apparently raped her for several hours. It came on the heels of another incident in the village of Chak # 39 NB where impoverished Christian carpenter Tariq Masih 19 was murdered because of his relationship with a 17-year-old Muslim girl, his maternal uncle, Allah Ditta said.

Churches and rights investigators have accused the Taliban of encouraging its militants and other Muslims to attack Christians, including minors, in several parts of the country. In one of the latest incidents, some 400 angry Muslims armed with clubs, iron rods and firearms attacked homes of Christians and accused five Christian villagers of desecrating the Koran, seen as holy by Muslims, villagers said.


Islamic extremism

Eyewitnesses told BosNewsLife the May 1 incident happened in the village of Harappa in a remote part of Punjab, considered a hot-bed for Islamic extremism. The violence broke out after police detained a Christian man Ashfaq Gill April 28 on suspicion of “tearing and desecrating” the Koran, Christian villagers said.

Soon after, Harappa police detained four other Christians, identified as Naseer Gill Madhauv, Imran Gill Naseer, Harris John Emmanuel Hero, Israar Wilson Inyat-Ullah and Ghulam Freed, under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy legislation, Christians said. Villagers went on saying that police also accused all five Christians of bursting into the Girls High School of Harappa and “desecrating the Book of Koran” there during theft.

However the ‘All Pakistan Minorities Alliance’, a major advocacy and political group, denied wrongdoing saying all five detained Christians are its political workers in the area.

Rights groups have urged the government to investigate these incidents and arrest those responsible, amid allegations of reluctance among police to detain suspects. Federal Minister for Minorities and head of APMA Shahbaz Bhatti told BosNewsLife he would “make sure that culprits responsible for this showdown are booked and justice is served” including to the five Christians against whom blasphemy charges have been leveled.

Yet, with the Taliban gaining ground in Pakistan, extremism is spreading and Christians are among minorities with little influence in this predominantly Islamic nation, rights groups warned.

Report from the Christian Telegraph


Armed militants fire into crowd, seriously injuring three; jizye tax imposed in Orakzai.

ISTANBUL, April 27 (Compass Direct News) – As Taliban control hits pockets of Pakistan and threatens the nation’s stability, Christians worry their province could be the next to fall under Islamic law.

Violence on Tuesday night and Wednesday (April 21-22) near the port city of Karachi – some 1,000 kilometers (nearly 700 miles) from the Swat Valley, where the government officially allowed the Taliban to establish Islamic law this month – heightened fears. Christians in Taiser town, near Karachi, noticed on the walls of their church graffiti that read, “Long Live the Taliban” and calls for Christians to either convert to Islam or pay the jizye, a poll tax under sharia (Islamic law) paid by non-Muslims for protection if they decline to convert.

As members of the congregation erased the graffiti, armed men intervened to stop them. Soon 30-40 others arrived as support and began to fire indiscriminately at the crowd, leaving several injured. Among those seriously injured were three Christians, including a child, according to a report by advocacy group Minorities Concern of Pakistan: Emrah Masih, 35, Qudoos Masih, 30, and Irfan Masih, 11. A Pashtun named Rozi Khan was also among the injured.

Policemen and military forces arrested seven suspects at the scene and recovered an arms cache of semi-automatic pistols and a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

The Taliban is an insurgent movement of primarily Pashtun Islamists ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistani media portrayed the Karachi violence as a sectarian clash between Christians and Pashtuns that escalated into a gunfire exchange and that Christians committed arson attacks. The Daily Times claimed that the Christians protested the graffiti by setting ablaze some shops, including roadside stalls and pushcarts.

But a legal advocacy worker told Compass that police scattered the Christians when they began their protests and stood by as a Taliban-assembled mob attacked them.

“The Christians do not have guns, they do not have weapons, but only a little bit of property and the few things in their houses,” said Sohail Johnson, chief coordinator of Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan. “They are poor and have no courage to fight them. How can Christians, who lived like animals here, stand against them?”

Johnson said that local Christians, terrified over recent Talibanization campaigns, may not pursue legal action against the arrested men, although Asia News reported that Qudoos Masih filed an initial report at the Sarjani town police station. The Christians fear inciting violence by taking a stand against elements connected with the Taliban, Johnson said.

Eyewitnesses to the attacks against Christians in Karachi said they were religiously motivated. A representative of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) regional party told Compass that after firing on the crowd, the Taliban went through Christian houses, ransacked them and burned one down. He said they also burned Bibles and beat women on the street. Reports of two execution-style killings of Christians could not be verified.

Karachi police and administration reportedly claimed that the Karachi attack came not from the Taliban but from Pashtuns who resettled in the area from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The MQM, however, has long suspected Taliban presence in Karachi.


Expanded Campaign of Violence

Local officials are worried that the Taliban is making inroads into Karachi, the financial center of Pakistan, in the same way it did within the Swat Valley in the NWFP.

In mid-February Pakistan’s fertile Swat Valley turned into a Taliban stronghold ruled by sharia under a “peace agreement,” but instead of honoring the accord with an end to bombings and other violence, the Islamic militants have expanded their campaign to outlying areas and other parts of the country. Of the 500 Christians remaining in Swat Valley when sharia was initially established in February, many have migrated to other provinces while those who stayed live in fear of a rise in violence against non-Muslims.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Area adjacent to the NWFP, the Taliban this month demanded a jizye payment of 50 million rupees (US$625,000) from Sikhs living in Orakzai Agency. Those who did not flee paid a combined total of 2 million rupees (US$25,000), and Christians worry they could be next. Relegating non-Muslims to dhimmi status – the second-class state of those subject to an Islamic administration and its jizye tax in exchange for protection – is part of the writings of the founder of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy), one of Pakistan’s main Islamic parties with ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan and similar parties in Bangladesh and Egypt.

Last week the Taliban effectively took control of Buner district, just 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad, and it has begun battling government soldiers in Malakland Agency.

Non-Muslims make up 3 percent of the population in the Muslim-majority nation of 176 million. They are frequently marginalized, particularly in the sharia-influenced justice system that gives precedence to Muslims. But they fear Taliban infiltration will accelerate their marginalization in a stealth manner, as they cannot tell the difference between a Taliban fighter and a community member.

“We cannot identify who is a Taliban fighter because there are an uncountable number of people who have a beard and wear a turban,” Johnson said. “We cannot recognize who belongs to the Taliban because they penetrate every corner of Pakistan.”

The MQM official in Karachi said many of the Christians in the area are poor and illiterate. They are on the lower rungs of the social ladder and have nobody to protect their interests except for the church.

“Nobody is going to help them,” he said. “The church can help them get education, but they are not also able to give them [security] help.”

His statements were backed by MQM leader Altaf Hussein, who called on Pakistan’s Interior Ministry to take emergency preventative measures to ensure the safety of minorities against the “rising activities of armed lawless elements,” according to The News International.

A local teacher said that during the looting police only stood by, making no effort to stop the Taliban as they ransacked Christian houses.

“Rather than stopping them, they allowed them to burn the houses, [harass] the Christian women and burn Bibles,” he said.

Although Pakistani politicians and security forces have said openly in recent weeks that the Taliban was closing in on Islamabad and could trigger a government collapse, they claimed the pro-Taliban slogans in Karachi were scrawled not by the Taliban but conspirators wanting to incite violence.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, an Islamist party leader, said talk of the Talibanization of Karachi was merely a ruse to allow the United States to invade Pakistan as it had done to Afghanistan.

“Those raising this slogan are trying to create another Osama for America in this part of the world,” he said, according to The News International.

The Karachi attacks were part of escalating violence throughout the country. The government informed the National Assembly on April 20 that 1,400 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in the last 15 months.

Report from Compass Direct News


At least three Pakistani Christian men, who were protesting against pro Taliban and Al-Qaeda slogans written on their local churches, have been injured in a gun battle between law enforcement agencies and Pashto-speaking suspected militant Muslims on Wednesday (April 22, 2009) afternoon, reports Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan, special to ASSIST News Service.

Pashto language is spoken by people in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan and also by the residents of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Christian residents of Taseer Town awoke on Wednesday morning to discover the slogans, “Taliban Zindabad” (Long-Live the Taliban) and “Al-Qaeda Zindabad” (Long Live Al-Qaeda), which are thought to be have been posted by some unidentified people, on the walls of different churches in their town located in Sector 35 Lyari, in the port city of Karachi.

They were so upset that some of them set ablaze tires and blocked the roads, bringing the traffic in the area to a standstill.

Heavy contingents of rangers and police rushed to the scene to disperse the protesting Christians.

Michael Javaid, a former member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly, spoke to ANS from tension-ridden area of Taseer Town apprised ANS that three Christians were injured as firing broke out between law enforcement agencies’ officials and militants at 11:30 am Pakistan time on Wednesday.

He alleged that the police opened fire on protesting Christians instead of protecting them. The injured were taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in Karachi.

One of the injured, Imran Masih, received a bullet to his head and was rush to the hospital where his condition is said to be “critical.” The other two injured Christian men were later identified as Qudus Masih and Irfan Masih.

ANS has discovered that Qudus received an injury to his arm. Javaid, who visited the injured in the hospital, said the medics had plastered Qudus arm. He apprehended that the Christian man would have arm-disability all his life.

Three houses of Christians in the Taseer Town have also been burned. ANS could not ascertain what caused fire.

Javaid told ANS the police “manhandled protesting Christian men and women,” adding that the police removed the Christian women from the protest site by “pulling them from their hair.”

He claimed suspected militants also forced their entry into a church in the area and “desecrated Bibles.”

Javaid said he witnessed rangers removing slogans in favour of Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda from the walls of churches.

Asked if the police have registered First Information Report (FIR) against assailants, Michael said the police have instead arrested two Christian men and four workers of Pakistan Peoples Party, who he said had come to express their solidarity with the Christians from their nearby office.

Recent attack on Christians and churches by Islamists comes about three months as two churches in Karachi were attacked on New Year’s Eve.

The incident has sparked fear and uncertainty among the Christian residents of Karachi. The tense situation has prompted several Christian women to flee their homes.

Asked if this was beginning of the “Talibanization of Karachi,” he said that a sizable number of Taliban had entered the city “in an attempt to press their demands of enforcing Sharia Justice System in the Sindh Province.

He termed the sketching of walls of churches in Karachi with slogans backing Taliban and Al-Qaeda as a “conspiracy” to slap Sharia Justice System on Pakistani Christians.

When ANS drew his attention to Taliban’s taking control of Buner district which is only 96 kilometers (60 miles) from capital Islamabad, he said they (Taliban) were bent upon enforcing Sharia Justice System across Pakistan.

He pointed out that the Taliban in Orakzai, located at border of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, had already started demanding Jaziya (Minority tax) from Sikhs there.

“I fear the Taliban will start demanding minority tax from Pakistani Christians too,” he said.

He added: “Christians are not a ‘conquered community.’ They are not supposed to pay any minority tax.”

Javaid appealed to Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, to ensure protection of the lives and properties of Pakistani Christians

Report from the Christian Telegraph


Accepting Islamic law in exchange for peace leaves many uncertain, fearful.

ISTANBUL, March 27 (Compass Direct News) – Just over a month since Pakistan’s fertile Swat Valley turned into a Taliban stronghold where sharia (Islamic law) rules, the fate of the remaining Christians in the area is uncertain.

Last month, in an effort to end a bloody two-year battle, the Islamabad administration struck a deal with Taliban forces surrendering all governance of Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Sources told Compass that after the violence that has killed and displaced hundreds, an estimated 500 Christians remain in the area. Traditionally these have been low-skilled workers, but younger, more educated Christians work as nurses, teachers and in various other professions.

The sole Church of Pakistan congregation in Swat, consisting of 40 families, has been renting space for nearly 100 years. The government has never given them permission to buy land in order to build a church building.

An associate pastor of the church in central Swat told Yousaf Benjamin of the National Commission for Justice and Peace that with the bombing of girls schools at the end of last year, all Christian families migrated to nearby districts. After the peace deal and with guarded hope for normalcy and continued education for their children, most of the families have returned to their homes but are reluctant to attend church.

The associate pastor, who requested anonymity, today told sources that “people don’t come to the church as they used to come before.” He said that although the Taliban has made promises of peace, the Christian community has yet to believe the Muslim extremists will hold to them.

“The people don’t rely on Taliban assurances,” said Benjamin.

Last week the associate pastor met with the third in command of the main Taliban militant umbrella group in Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Kari Abdullah, and requested land in order to build a church. Abdullah reportedly agreed, saying that Islam is a religion of peace and equality, and that his group intended to provide equal opportunities to the religious communities of Swat.

The Catholic Church in Swat is located in a school compound that was bombed late last year. Run by nuns and operated under the Catholic Church Peshawar Diocese, the church has been closed for the last two years since insurgents have been fighting government led forces, source said.

Parliamentarian Shahbaz Bhatti said Christians and the few Hindus in Swat valley have lived under terror and harassment by the Taliban since insurgents began efforts to seize control of the region. He met with a delegation of Christians from Swat last month who said they were concerned about their future, but Bhatti said only time will tell how the changes will affect Christians.

“The Christian delegation told me that they favor the peace pact if indeed it can bring peace, stability and security to the people living there,” he said. “But they also shared their concern that if there is enforcement of sharia, what will be their future? But we will see how it will be implemented.”

Although there have been no direct threats against Christians since the establishment of the peace accord, some advocates fear that it may only be a matter of time.

“These days, there are no reports of persecution in Swat,” Lahore-based reporter Felix Qaiser of Asia News told Compass by phone, noting the previous two years of threatening letters, kidnappings and aggression against Christians by Islamic extremists. “But even though since the implementation of sharia there have been no such reports, we are expecting them. We’re expecting this because other faiths won’t be tolerated.”

Qaiser also expressed concern about the treatment of women.

“They won’t be allowed to move freely and without veils,” he said. “And we’re very much concerned about their education there.”

In the past year, more than 200 girls schools in Swat were reported to have been burned down or bombed by Islamic extremists.

Remaining girls schools were closed down in January but have been re-opened since the peace agreement in mid-February. Girls under the age of 13 are allowed to attend.

Since the deal was struck, seven new sharia judges have been installed, and earlier this month lawyers were trained in the nuances of Islamic law. Those not trained are not permitted to exercise their profession. As of this week, Non-Governmental Organizations are no longer permitted in the area and vaccinations have been banned.

“These are the first fruits of Islamic law, and we’re expecting worse things – Islamic punishment such as cutting off hands, because no one can dictate to them,” Qaiser said. Everything is according to their will and their own interpretation of Islamic law.”


Launch Point for Taliban

Analysts and sources on the ground have expressed skepticism in the peace deal brokered by pro-Taliban religious leader Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who is also the leader of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. The insurgent, who has long fought for implementation of sharia in the region, has also fought alongside the Taliban against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

He was imprisoned and released under a peace deal in April 2008 in an effort to restore normalcy in the Swat Valley. Taliban militants in the Swat area are under the leadership of his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah.

The agreement to implement sharia triggered alarm around the world that militants will be emboldened in the northwest of Pakistan, a hotbed for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists fighting Western forces in Afghanistan and bent on overthrowing its government.

Joe Grieboski of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy said the peace deal makes Talibanization guaranteed by law, rendering it impossible to return to a liberal democracy or any guarantee of fundamental rights.

“The government in essence ceded the region to the Taliban,” said Grieboski. “Clerical rule over the region will fulfill the desires of the extremists, and we’ll see the region become a copy of what Afghanistan looked like under Taliban rule.”

This can only mean, he added, that the Taliban will have more power to promulgate their ideology and power even as the Pakistani administration continues to weaken.

“Unfortunately, this also creates a safe launching off point for Taliban forces to advance politically, militarily and ideologically into other areas of the country,” said Grieboski. “The peace deal further demonstrates the impotence of [Asif Ali] Zardari as president.”

Grieboski said the peace deal further demonstrates that Pakistani elites – and President Zardari in particular – are less concerned about fundamental rights, freedom and democracy than about establishing a false sense of security in the country.

“This peace deal will not last, as the extremists will demand more and more, and Zardari and the government have placed themselves in a weakened position and will once again have to give in,” said Grieboski.

Sohail Johnson, chief coordinator of advocacy group Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, said he fears that militants in Swat will now be able to freely create training centers and continue to attack the rest of Pakistan.

“They will become stronger, and this will be the greatest threat for Christians living in Pakistan,” said Johnson.

Thus far the government has not completely bowed to Taliban demands for establishment of full sharia courts, and it is feared that the insurgents may re-launch violent attacks on civilians until they have full judicial control.

“The question of the mode of implementation has not yet been decided, because the Taliban want their own qazis [sharia judges] and that the government appointed ones should quit,” said lawyer Khalid Mahmood, who practices in the NWFP.

Mahmood called the judiciary system in Swat “collapsed” and echoed the fear that violence would spread in the rest of the country.

“They will certainly attack on the neighboring districts,” he said.

Earlier today, close to the Swat Valley in Khyber, a suicide bomber demolished a mosque in Jamrud, killing at least 48 people and injuring more than 150 others during Friday prayers. Pakistani security officials reportedly said they suspected the attack was retaliation for attempts to get NATO supplies into Afghanistan to use against Taliban fighters and other Islamist militants.

Report from Compass Direct News