Pakistan's location in 'war on terror' disastrous for Christians

By staff writers
December 9, 2008

A delegation of Christians has returned from Pakistan with warnings about the disastrous consequences on local Christians of Pakistan's location as a front-line state in the 'war on terror'.

The team from the World Council of Churches was in Pakistan during the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

It also said that a recent government agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a 7.6 billion US dollars loan for Pakistan would place significant restrictions on subsidies that particularly help the poor.

The ecumenical team of church representatives from the United States, Armenia and the Netherlands went to Pakistan in order to learn about the role of the church in a multi-religious society struggling with extremism and intolerance, and to express the solidarity of the WCC fellowship, which includes 349 churches worldwide, with Pakistan's Christians.

"Living Letters" are small international ecumenical teams travelling to locations around the world where Christians strive to overcome violence.

The Mumbai terrorist attacks, which occurred during the visit and the blame game that placed the crisis on the door of Pakistan, the group felt, would exacerbate already tense inter-religious relations in the country.

In addition, a recent government agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a 7.6 billion US dollars loan for Pakistan would place significant restrictions on subsidies that particularly help the poor.

Pakistan's location as a front-line state in the war on terror, the Living Letters team learned, has disastrous consequences on local Christians who are seen as an extension of the West. Therefore, incursions into Pakistan by troops of the US-led military operations in Afghanistan make the situation of Pakistani Christians even more precarious than usual.

The team met with the bishops of the Church of Pakistan, ecumenical youth, women and clergy groups to discuss the situation of Christians and the effects of certain draconian laws on minorities and other vulnerable groups.

Of particular concern for Christians are the blasphemy laws and the "Hudud" punishments, for example for adultery, fixed by Sharia law, which tend to unfairly target Christians. Lack of proper legal systems in villages and tribal areas coupled with extremist religious views and intolerant attitudes create serious difficulties for Christians, the delegation was told.

In a visit to a church in a community of brick kiln workers, the team met Christians whose economic conditions they described as 'bonded labour'. Despite abominable living conditions, the team felt that their gracious hospitality was a "precious gift."

At the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a leading civil society institution, the team was presented a critical appraisal of the human rights situation focusing primarily on minorities and the adverse situations they face every day of their lives.

The team also met with diverse Muslim leaders to discuss similar concerns as well as their particular read of the global context and the status of Christian-Muslim relationships in Pakistan.

Visiting a major madrassa, or Islamic school, in Lahore, the team was invited to see its daily operation.

The Living Letters team was also hosted by the Islamic University of Islamabad, one of the premier Islamic universities in the world, where they engaged in an amicable and creative discussion with scholars over the long term task of inter-religious dialogue and mutual respect for justice and peace in the world.

The team also attended the triennial Synod meeting of the Church of Pakistan. This united church is one of two WCC member churches in Pakistan, along with the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.

Through 2010, Living Letters visits will take place around the globe in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence in order to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held in Jamaica in 2011.

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