“The People of the Book” is Islam’s distinctive name for non-Muslim monotheists such as Jews and Christians. It sounds like a title given to those respected and revered. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. “Protected People,” another such term, sounds so reassuring. Who doesn’t want to be protected? But for the Islamic world’s “Protected People” there is no protection.
Nowhere is this truer than for Pakistan's tiny minority Christian population. Rather than being protected, Pakistani Christians are disadvantaged and victimized in every way. Dhimmis, treated as second-class citizens, they live with grinding poverty and Muslim contempt, deprived of education and employment opportunities. Vulnerable to threats and lacking the means to defend themselves, they are the inevitable targets of Islamist attacks, even victimized by those who are supposed to protect them, merely because they are Christians.
Christians in northern Pakistan, such as the precarious Afghanistan-bordering Northwest Frontier Territory Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Punjab Province have long suffered and continue to suffer oppression and persecution. But increasingly, Christians in southern Pakistan’s Sindh Province are being persecuted under the “Talibanization” of Karachi. Afghani and Pakistani Pashtun militants that have been flooding Pakistan’s largest city forthe last few years are causing problems for the whole city, but especially for the impoverished, minority Christian community. They and other Islamists subject southern Pakistan’s Christians to horrific violations of their human rights and dignity.
Fleeing from military offenses against the Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, the militants have used Karachi's slum neighborhoods as a place to regroup and raise funds. But they also use their presence in southern Pakistan as an opportunity to attack the Christian community in Sindh Province. Karachi’s Christian poor live in these same slums.
Soon after their arrival in southern Pakistan, the Taliban militants attempted to impose the same Islamic law in Karachi that they had achieved through a “peace agreement” in the Swat Valley. In the spring of 2009, the militants wrote slogans and threats such as “Long live the Taliban” and “Infidels – convert to Islam” on the walls of the churches and houses of Christians in Taiser town, a Karachi community of about 750 Christian families. According to Christian Today, Dr. Nazir Bhatti, the President of the Pakistan Christian Congress, revealed that although for months the Christians had feared an attack was coming and had alerted the police, the police ignored them.
On the evening of April 21, 2009, Christians who were attempting to clean the graffiti off their buildings were attacked by a mob of over 100 masked Taliban gunmen. The gunmen shot into the crowd, seriously wounding three people. One of the shooting victims, 11 year-old Irfan Masih, died from his injuries several days later. As recalled in UnDhimmi, the Pakistan Christian Post reported the gunmen shouted, “You infidels have to convert to Islam or die!” They demanded to know why the Christians had removed the warnings they wrote and declared, “How dare you stage a procession against the Taliban!” Then the militants ransacked and set fire to houses and churches, burning Bibles and beating women in the streets.
Recently, kidnapping and other forms of extortion have become big business for the Pashtun Taliban and other criminal elements in the city. According to BBC News, Karachi police report that “the Taliban are generating funds through bank robberies, protection rackets, and kidnapping.” Even here, the Taliban targets poor Christians, as well as wealthy, influential Muslims. According to grassroots activist for minority rights in Sindh Province, Elvis Steven, such payments – whether for ransom or to a protection racket – are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most Christians. Few are like Irvin John, a wealthy Catholic layman in Karachi who was kidnapped in early 2011. He paid a ransom and was released unharmed after being held for three weeks.
No ransom demand was made, however, in a more recent kidnapping of two Christian hospital employees in Karachi. In March 2012, Compass Direct News Service reported that Indrias Javaid, 42, the general manager, and Isaac Samson, 26, from the finance office, of South Korean-based Good Samaritan Hospital were taken from the hospital van en route to work by four “fair-skinned” Pashtu-speaking suspects. Police believe that the kidnappers took them to Pakistan’s tribal areas. According to a senior police investigator, “most radical groups believe that Christian NGOs are involved in evangelizing ‘under the guise of charity’ and have been targeted for that reason.”
Pashtun Taliban militants are not the only Islamists attacking Christians in southern Pakistan. Jameel Sawaan was gunned down on the morning of November 16, 2011, when he and his assistant were opening up his cosmetics shop in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighborhood. A young man approached and shot the lay evangelist in the neck and the face and then fled on a motorcycle with two other men. Sawaan’s son, Zahid Jameel, told Compass Direct that his father was killed “because of his preaching of the Bible.” “There is no other reason,” he said. He explained that for several years Sawaan had been reaching out to “share the Good News” with people.
Elvis Steven says that Christians frequently are afraid to contact the police about crimes because some police accept bribes from Islamists or are sympathetic to their cause. Other times they are just indifferent to the plight of Christians. Such was true when a group of Muslim youths shot and killed two Christians outside The Salvation Army church in Hyderabad, Sindh Province on March 21, 2011.
Young Muslim men had gathered outside the church hall where The Salvation Army was celebrating its 30th anniversary. They were playing loud music and verbally abusing the Christian women coming to the worship service. Some of the Christian men came outside and asked the young men to have respect for the church service and the women. Steven says that this “infuriated” the Muslims who left, but returned with weapons and “opened fire on the Christian worshipers” when they were leaving after the service. Younis Masih, 47, and Jameel Masih, 22, were killed instantly. Siddique Masih, 45, and a 20 year-old identified as only “Waseem” were seriously injured.
Jameel's mother, Surraya Bibi, said that the attitude of the local police had exacerbated the Christians' sorrow. “The police acted as if it was not important,” she exclaimed. The police refused to file a report on the case until the Christians blocked the main road of Hyderabad with the bodies of the two men for several hours.
Another tragic murder in Karachi involved the police. The body of Waqas Masih, a 16 year-old Christian boy from the Aktar Colony, Mahmoodabad neighborhood of Karachi, was retrieved from a drain canal in Kashmir Colony on July 9, 2011. He had been shot in the heart and sexually assaulted. The Pakistan Christian Post reported that Waqas was the victim of a group of Muslim men, including a police constable, Mohammad Amir Butt, that had been abducting and forcibly sodomizing young Christian boys for years, modeling the despicable sexual slavery of young boys practiced by Muslim men in Afghanistan, “Bacha Bazi.” The Post revealed that because of the complicity of police in the widespread sexual abuse, the Mahmoodabad Police Station registers such crimes as this reported by Christians, but later forces them to withdraw the cases or to compromise with the Muslim perpetrators. According to The News International, residents said that “Waqas's body was the fifth abused corpse to be retrieved from the Kashir Colony Nullah in recent times.”
Christians, marginalized by the Muslim majority and lacking in representation within their own government, are powerless to defend themselves against these attacks. They are easy targets for those who do not see them as equal human beings, deserving of the same rights as Muslims. Elvis Stevens says that southern Pakistan’s Christians seem to be neglected and abandoned even by Christian mission and relief groups working in Pakistan. Most international ministries and human rights organizations have focused on northern Pakistan, perhaps believing that southern Pakistan's Christians were not suffering as much as Christians in the north of the country. That is no longer true, if it ever was. The Christians of Karachi desperately need assistance in the face of this Talibanization of southern Pakistan.
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