Turmoil faces Pakistan in the wake of assassination

By January 1, 2008

Pakistan (MNN) – Officials in
Pakistan are considering a delay in the January 8 parliamentary elections
following the assassination of Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last week.

Her death sparked waves of violence
and unrest, causing authorities to worry that local governments would not be
ready for electoral duties. There are
also concerns that the strong emotional reaction to the assassination would
skew results.

Next to President Pervez Musharraf,
Bhutto was the best-known political figure in the country, serving two terms as
prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She was respected in the West for her
liberal outlook and determination to combat the spread of Islamic extremism.

Such extremism has been the bane to evangelistic work in
Pakistan. Open
supports the evangelical church in
Pakistan, which numbers about 2 percent. Minister-at-large for the ministry
Paul Estabrooks wonders, "Is he (Musharraf) going to impose martial law
because of the violence which could result, or will he allow the elections to
go ahead?"

Although Al Qaeda is denying its involvement,
Estabrooks thinks differently. "She really believed that it was extremist
Muslims that were out to kill her. That was her personal belief. I don't think
she was a paranoid person, so I think there was something to her beliefs on

Bhutto's death is one more
ingredient in the de-stabilizing formula that allows such extremist groups room
to grow. Because of that, Estabrooks
predicts the immediate future doesn't look good for the country or for
Christians. "I think there's going to be some turmoil for quite some time
over this, and of course in the past Christians have often been the object of
anger of the dominantly Muslim society there."

While Christians must be careful,
Estabrooks is hoping that "out of this crisis, which seems to be so
terrible, that God will give opportunities for our Christian brothers and
sisters to share their faith with their community, both at a public statement
level and in an individual one-on-one."

Pakistan is not the only country being affected by the uproar. Grand
Rapids, Michigan-based Mission
Dave Stravers says of the effect on India, that "Christians
are complaining that some of the national officials that do protect them from
local Hindu extremists, their attention is diverted, and they're not willing to
get involved in another aspect of religious violence because of this fear that
Muslim/Hindu animosity might break out in the country."  

His comments refer to the Christmas week violence against believers in
Orissa state. There have been unconfirmed reports of Christians being
killed in those attacks. At least a dozen church buildings have been
destroyed and numerous meetings broken up.

The All-India Christian Council asked for better protection against the
continued attacks.  Christians were told that a government visit to Orissa
was planned in order to set up procedures that would protect Christians from
attack. Now, in the wake of the assassination, religious fervor is being
stoked to frenzy. There are concerns that the Muslim/Hindu
conflicts will explode along Pakistan's borders with India.

Whenever sectarian violence flares, Stravers says, minorities–in this case,
Christians–bear the brunt. "Stability definitely enhances the Gospel, so
I'm praying for the peace of Pakistan, and I'm praying of the peace of India,
and I'm praying that whatever evil elements in the country that are seeking to
use these political events for their own ends, that God will frustrate


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