Pakistan (MNN) — In anticipation of the upcoming July elections in Pakistan, militant Islamists have formed a new political party, the Milli Muslim League (MML).
The US State Department designated MML as a terrorist organization last month, saying the political party is a front for the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Hafiz Saeed, the leader of LeT, is believed to have orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai terror attack that killed over 160 people. LeT continues to create aliases and fronts to get around international sanctions.
The new MML party is campaigning to enforce the death penalty for blasphemy convictions and ultimately establish Sharia law in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry requested MML be barred from registering as a political party in October 2017. However, in March this year the Islamabad High Court ordered the election commission to register MML as a political party for the coming election season.
Greg Musselman with The Voice of the Martyrs Canada says, “From an international perspective, Pakistan really is looked at as a broken country. It is a failed state. They may try to clamp down on terrorism and they certainly give the US government lip service saying they’re trying to clamp down on that. And yet, on the other hand, we’ve seen where there still have been these attacks and you wonder, how serious are they?”
MML and other radical Muslim groups are growing in popularity. Although MML was not allowed to run in Pakistan’s elections last year, it did participate in a special election and shockingly garnered the fourth highest number of votes.
This uptick in Pakistan’s radical Islamic element means Christians are increasingly attacked.
Musselman explains, “Groups like ISIS, of course, the Taliban and al Qaida that have pretty strong footprints in those countries [are] reacting against Christians. So when you see Easter, Christmas, those kinds of gatherings especially, that’s when Christians are very vulnerable.”
The trouble for Christians doesn’t stop at individual or mass attacks. Radical Islamists also pressure the Pakistani government to kowtow to their demands. As a result, extremists wield the law like a hammer against believers and other religious minorities.
“You’ve got these blasphemy laws that are often used to take a business, as an example, from a Christian or land, those kinds of things. Or they want daughters from Christian families to be taken and married to Muslims and then they force conversions. So there [are] a number of things that are going on there, but there is that radical or militant aspect of Islam that is causing these problems.”
There are officials in the Pakistani government pushing to protect minorities, but they risk suffering attacks or even assassination.
Musselman shares, “We’ve seen in the past for those that stand up against some of the atrocities against Christians. I think of the governor of Punjab who was murdered because of his support of Asia Bibi and getting her out of prison.”
Throughout the growing persecution, VOM Canada seeks to encourage and strengthen the Church in Pakistan.
“Even though the Christian population of Pakistan is less than two percent, in some parts of the country it is growing. We work with organizations over there that are actively planting churches in areas that are very dangerous and I have been in some of those spots. We have seen those that come from a Muslim background coming to a relationship and faith in Jesus.”
Understandably, it’s not easy to remain in Pakistan as a Christian when it could mean your life or the lives of your family members and children.
“We have seen thousands of Christians that have left Pakistan. Many of them are currently…in Thailand trying to get to Canada, the United States, and Europe. They have found themselves in very difficult situations there. Some have been imprisoned because they are not there legally. They fear that if they go back to Pakistan, they will be persecuted — especially for the Muslim converts, those that have come to Christ from a Muslim background.”
Prayer is crucial for the encouragement of our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan. As 1 Corinthians 12:26a says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it….”
Musselman says, “We need to pray that the believers will have peace in the middle of all the storm. And maybe that’s easy to say from where I sit in Canada or where you are in the United States, but we really do need to pray.
“Then as we pray, the Lord gives us some insight. Maybe there is something we can do beyond prayer. Maybe that’s a supportive way of helping ministries like Voice of the Martyrs or Open Doors and those that work with persecuted Christians that can get resources into the hands of the Pakistani believers.”