Pakistan: War and unprecedented persecution in NWFP

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By: 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.


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.)


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 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)


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)


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
[email protected]


1) Militants targeting civilians

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
Editorial: Recapturing Swat from Fazlullah
Daily Times, Pakistan, Friday 26 October 2007

4) 11 men kidnapped were executed in Pak, militants claim
SWAT (Pakistan) (AP) 27 Oct 2007

5) Leaflets urge Malakand people to help govt

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