Pakistan's Christians Fear Backlash Over Association With West

July 7, 2008 - 7:13 PM

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Already living in fear because of threats from Islamic militants, Pakistan's Christians are now urging their government to provide them with greater security, saying they expect their plight to worsen in the event of a war against Iraq.

"The U.S. is identified here as a Christian country, and Christians are targeted by terrorists to express their anger against America," according to Samuel Azariah, a church leader in Lahore.

Last month, a shadowy militant group named Jesh Ahle-i-Alqiblat al-Jihadi al-Sari al-Alami distributed pamphlets demanding that Christian Pakistanis convert to Islam or face death.

The group said every Muslim had a duty to take such action against Christians. It also called on Muslims to attack and kill Christian foreigners.

While the threats were not specifically tied to the Iraqi situation, indigenous Christians are concerned that what happens in the Gulf will affect them too.

"We fear Christians will be vulnerable to terrorist attacks by extremists who think we are part of the U.S. and Western nations because we are Christian," Pastor Irshad John of the Protestant St. Thomas Church in Islamabad said in a published interview."

In an attempt to distance themselves from causes that are unpopular among Muslims, many Pakistani Christians have supported recent anti-war demonstrations.

One major church, the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore, hosted a peace service on Friday, attended by people are various faiths.

Even before the recent escalation of the Iraq crisis, Pakistan's tiny Christian minority faced difficulties as a result of Islamic extremism.

After Muslim terrorists bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in 1998, the Clinton administration launched a cruise missile strike on terrorist bases in Afghanistan. The strikes triggered riots in Pakistan, and many Christians were specifically targeted.

When the U.S. launched its war on terrorism-led war on terror in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., matters got worse for the minority.

Since then, more than 30 Christians have been killed in a series of bombing and shooting attacks on churches and church-affiliated institutions in Pakistan

Protestant and Catholic Christians comprise less than two per cent of Pakistan's predominantly Muslim population of more than 140 million.

Nazir Bhatti, the U.S.-based head of a group called the Pakistan Christian Congress, recalls that Christians bore the brunt of Islamists' anger during the 1991 Gulf War, attacked and stoned by neighbors. Pakistan supported the U.S.-led coalition fighting to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

"The situation of Christians living in small pockets among Muslims villages needs more attention by the government and also the security of Christian religious and political leaders is very important this time," he said.

Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi noted Sunday that attacks on Pakistani Christians appeared to draw more international attention that attacks on other Pakistani national.

Militants know this, and tend to seek out targets seen to represent "Crusader" forces.

"The miniscule minority of Christians who still survive - with equally small numbers of other minorities - in Pakistan, would be natural targets under these circumstances."

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