Monday, October 29, 2007

Pakistan: War and unprecedented persecution in NWFP.

Date: Monday 29 October 2007
Subj: Pakistan: War and unprecedented persecution in NWFP.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Persecution of Christians has long been intense right across Pakistan's highly Islamised and Talibanised North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However Islamic zeal, tension, intolerance and belligerence has escalated dramatically over recent years as the Pakistan Army has been engaged in an unpopular war against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.

PEACE, LIBERTY AND PERSECUTION

Heavy troop losses and plummeting troop morale has led President Musharraf to strike "peace deals" with Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates in several regions of NWFP. South Waziristan was ceded to Taliban and al-Qaeda control in February 2005 and North Waziristan was ceded in September 2006. Since then the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has had sanctuary in the "Islamic Emirate of Waziristan" -- an autonomous mini-state and terrorist sanctuary from where they have been able to freely consolidate, strategise, recruit, deploy, enforce their writ and expand their zone of influence.

This year the government signed similar "peace deals" (surrenders) in the NWFP tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mahmoud, as well as Swat district. As would be expected, in all areas under Taliban and al-Qaeda control a policy of zero tolerance towards everything "non-Islamic" is being violently imposed.

The "peace deals" have provided peace for the government, liberty for the Taliban and al-Qaeda and unprecedented persecution for Christians and all other non-Islamists.

(A detailed examination and assessment of the political and security situation in Pakistan -- a News & Analysis posting entitled "The Battle for Pakistan" -- will be released tomorrow.)

CONFLICT RESUMES

On 10 July government troops stormed the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. In response, the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in Waziristan terminated its "peace agreement" with the government and resumed terrorist actions against the Pakistan Army. Further to this, the Taliban and al-Qaeda appear to be waging an insurgency that is aimed at expanding Taliban and al-Qaeda control throughout NWFP on their way to Islamabad.

The chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asma Jahangir, told DAWN (7 Oct 2007): "The NWFP presents a disturbing picture of religious militancy that is increasingly manifesting itself in vigilante actions against the population and creating widespread fear. The government has chosen to look the other way when the militants have blown up girls' schools and video shops, threatened teachers, students, doctors, nurses, NGO workers and barbers." (Link 1)

SWAT DISTRICT

Swat district fell under Taliban control when the government struck a "peace deal" with the militants in May 2007. As noted by Hameedullah Khan in DAWN (21 September 2007), "Violence intensified in the Swat valley after the signing of the agreement."

Basically, the "peace deal" enabled the terror to be re-directed. Militants who had been consumed with battling the Pakistan Army were freed-up to wage a violent campaign of forced Islamisation across the district: destroying evidence of Swat Valley's ancient Buddhist heritage and eliminating all practice they deem non-Islamic. Swat Valley is home to around 1,000 Christians, a tiny and vulnerable minority amongst 1.5 million Muslims.

Asma Jahangir (HRCP) told DAWN that in Swat Valley the education department has asked girls to comply with Taliban demands and wear burqas to school after threats from militants. Jahangir adds that the only Christian missionary school in the area had shut down after receiving threats. Jahangir also reports that security forces have been abandoning their posts after coming under consistent militant attack, leaving people at the mercy of the militants.

A Compass Direct (CD) news release entitled "PAKISTAN: Taliban militants force burqa on Christian women's school", details the persecution on the above mentioned Catholic-run Public High School and exposes the shocking intensity of the persecution being directed at the Christian community as the Taliban works to subjugate or even eradicate Christianity from their turf. (Link 2)

"PEACE" ENDS

The "peace deal" signed in Swat in May was scrapped on Friday 21 September when the "caliph" of the parallel religious government in NWFP, Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked cleric Maulana Fazlullah, announced he was terminating his agreement with the government. Fazlullah's army of some 4,500 militants immediately resumed violence and terrorism (including suicide bombings) against the Pakistan Army.

On Wednesday 24 October, the interim caretaker government of the NWFP deployed more than 2,000 paramilitary troops, police and helicopter gunships into Swat Valley "to provide security to the people" and "negotiate" with the militants. (Link 3)

On 25 October a powerful bomb blast destroyed an army vehicle travelling through Mingora, Swat's main town, killing around 30 people including 17 soldiers. The militants are not negotiating.

Fazlullah's madrassa-stronghold came under heavy attack on Friday 26 October. Fazlullah retaliated by kidnapping six security personnel (3 soldiers and 3 police) and seven civilians whom he accused of being government spies. While some remain missing, others were publicly executed and their decapitated heads were reportedly put on display in a local bazaar. (Link 4)

According to government-issued Pashtu-language leaflets reportedly dropped from a government helicopter on Saturday 27 October, the government intends to "eliminate extremism and terrorism from the Swat valley". However, in a shameful betrayal of the people, the government attempted to appease the militants with the words: "You must remember that establishing Islamic courts, implementation of Shariah (Islamic law) and bringing peace is the first priority of the government." (Links 4&5)

ISLAMISATION, TERROR AND WAR MAKE FOR A TENUOUS FUTURE

In those areas of NWFP where the government has ceded control to the Taliban (South and North Waziristan, as well as Bajaur and Mahmoud agencies and Swat district) Christians are not only facing unprecedented persecution and forced Islamisation, they are now on the frontline of a battle for Pakistan -- a life and death battle with high-stakes, being waged between the government and the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance. This will push persecution amidst insecurity to unprecedented levels. Thousands are reportedly fleeing the area.

The battle for Pakistan commenced with the government conquest of the Lal Masjid on 10 July 2007. The al-Qaeda insurgency, which is administered from the Waziristans and aimed at Islamabad, is casting a very dark shadow over NWFP and sending ill winds sweeping across all Pakistan. Religious liberty and the security of Pakistan's Christians hangs in the balance. Short and medium-term prospects are bleak. Please pray for the Christians of Pakistan.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Militants targeting civilians
http://www.dawn.com/2007/10/08/top3.htm

2) Compass Direct News, 27 Sept 2007
PAKISTAN: Taliban militants force burqa on Christian women's school
- Extremists violently enforce Islamization in unruly northern district.
http://www.compassdirect.org/content/index.php?id=27 (search: Pakistan)

3) Swat cleric 'ends' peace deal
By Hameedullah Khan, 21 Sept 2007
http://www.dawn.com/2007/09/22/top9.htm
AND
Editorial: Recapturing Swat from Fazlullah
Daily Times, Pakistan, Friday 26 October 2007
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007%5C10%5C26%5Cstory_26-10-2007_pg3_1

4) 11 men kidnapped were executed in Pak, militants claim
SWAT (Pakistan) (AP) 27 Oct 2007
http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/003200710271522.htm

5) Leaflets urge Malakand people to help govt
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007\10\29\story_29-10-2007_pg7_5