Pakistan truce deal endangers Christians

By February 19, 2009

Pakistan (MNN) — A truce has been negotiated in Pakistan that could endanger the lives of Christians, women, and other minorities in Swat Valley, located in the northwest part of the country.

According to reports, Pakistan's government and the growing Taliban forces in the northwest cemented a truce that gives the insurgents dominance in the region, allowing the Taliban to impose Islamic religious law (Sharia Law) on all people in the region.

Paul Estabrooks with Open Doors USA says politically, this isn't a great move in the war on terror. "It's felt that many al Qaeda fighters and Taliban are trained and seek haven in that area. So, even NATO has cautioned Pakistan about this." British and United States leaders have also weighed in negatively about the deal.

That's bad news for Christians, says Estabrooks. "They are going to be under the challenge of Sharia Law, which is a pretty strict justice system. It has very little opportunity for anyone to get any kind of justice if they have been innocent of any charges against them. It's just a very demanding brand of Islamic law."

The agreement between Pakistan's government and the growing Taliban forces in the country's northwest region cemented a truce between the two sides and gave the insurgents dominance in the Swat region by installing a strict regimen of Islamic law amenable to the militants' authority.

Apart from the conflict, the impact on civilians could be harsh under strict interpretation of Sharia law. "The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.

Estabrooks says it's already a bad situation. "We estimate that at least once a month, a Christian has been killed in Pakistan. Once a month someone has been charged with blasphemy against the prophet Mohammad. In addition to that, kidnappings and physical harassment occur frequently, and attacks on property of Christians and churches occur almost every week somewhere in Pakistan. So, up in this area, it's going to be even more difficult."

Pakistan's treatment of Christians has been noticed by religious rights groups like Open Doors. "Last year, Pakistan was #15 on our World Watch list where we rate countries based on persecution. This year, Pakistan was #13. It's actually gone up on the list."

Pakistani Christians are typically low on the social structure because many are illiterate. Open Doors is addressing those needs. "We've been working on a literacy program, which is actually approved by the government throughout the country, especially aimed at the lower classes, where most of the minority Christians are [living], to teach them to read and write using the Bible as curriculum."

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