Pakistani Christians continue to protest against and condemn the killings of dozens of innocent Christians in Peshawar on 22nd September. But as they mourn, it is hardly comprehensible that there are reports that the organs of the victims were stripped from their bodies and trafficked on the black market. These horrendous reports have only served to rub salt on the wounds of Pakistan’s grieving and oppressed Christian minority.
If these reports are true, they raise several questions that the Pakistani government must seek to address with the utmost seriousness and urgency - particularly the rumour that government officials are involved. The strength of the reports – the Asian Human Rights Commission is among the organisations calling for action - means that they must be probed at the highest level and then, depending on the findings, stringent policies put into place to stop heinous crimes such as these from ever happening again.
The Christian community, their churches and villages have been under attack for several decades and the Pakistani government has hardly paid any attention. Their cries have fallen on the deaf ears of the ruling class. But the protests, prayers and vigils for justice have been carried out with renewed vigor and desperation since Peshawar and it would show the Pakistani government in the worst light if it continued to ignore their cries.
There have been protests outside the United Nations when the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was giving a speech; in Britain, people gathered outside 10 Downing Street to make their views known; and other protests have been held outside Pakistani embassies and high commissions across Europe.
And there are more planned, including one on October 23 in front of the White House when Sharif will meet President Obama, to talk about very important issues like energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism.
The other major protest has been organised for October 28 in front of the European Union, which is expected to approve Pakistan’s GSP plus scheme by the end of the year.
If the EU delegation to Pakistan and the EU human rights committee is aware of the deteriorating human rights situation in Pakistan and the mistreatment of minorities there, then Pakistan will not just be embarrassed but could lose millions of dollars in investment and trade deals and all the struggles over the past few years to get the trade relations to where they are will have been wasted. I don’t want this to happen, but at the same time the treatment of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan has reached such unacceptable and inhumane levels that the very moral fabric of our nation must be questioned.
Tough tonic may be the only way to snap the government into taking the action it ought to, to protect all its citizens and the people who have a right to share this land as Pakistanis – not to mention the people who voted them into power. What right has the government to allow violence, extremism and murder to spread like wildfire across our communities, from the built-up urban suburbs, to the dusty villages in the border lands? It is taking root everywhere and more people will die if it is not nipped in the bud.
The Pakistani government should take this matter seriously and connect with influential Christian representatives in Pakistan, Europe and America. In the latter two, the ambassadors and the high commissioners should make contact with the Pakistani Christian community representatives, listen to their concerns, and give them the assurances they are looking for.
It is not that the demands of Christians are so unreasonable or cannot be met. It is not unreasonable to ask that an extremely unjust, one-sided and abused set of blasphemy laws are amended to remove the capacity for misuse and exploitation, and it is not unreasonable to demand that those who attack churches and Christian settlements with the intention to kill are punished most severely. Their attacks and acts of murder are not lawful heroic deeds; they are evil pure and simple.
The prime minster or chief minsters like Shahbaz Shariff must show their concern by meeting with suffering Christians to hear their stories and their complaints, and to reassure them that they are working to address them.
It would have been hugely beneficial and sent a powerful message if the prime minister spent even a few minutes with Pakistani Christians during his seven day stay in America, but unfortunately he did not bother. He could also have seen Pakistani Christians living in the UK, as the PML (N) have a minority wing in the UK. Sadly he missed both opportunities and as they say, actions speak louder than words. In this case, his inaction spoke volumes of how little Christians mean to him or his government – and this just days after the worst attack on them in our nation’s history, a tragic event that made international headlines around the world.
The Pakistani President, Prime Minister and many other party and religious leaders all condemned it, that is true, but they need to do more than condemn it with their mouths. Pakistani rulers need to change with the times.
Pakistani Christians are living throughout the world and are a part of the world’s largest religion, Christianity. Many heads of state, including President Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II are all adherents of Christianity. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis are two of the most respectable personalities in the world, even regarded by Muslim heads of state, and the Archbishop has asked that the victims of the Peshawar bombing be considered martyrs.
We know Christians in Pakistan are poor and voiceless but it shouldn’t be assumed that the rest of the world has closed its eyes. The fact that world leaders like Obama, Ban ki Moon, and Catherine Ashton have condemned this atrocity highlights that their eyes are very much open to what is going on.
Recently during the Conservative’s annual Party Conference in Manchester, in the UK, ex-defence minister Dr Liam Fox pointed out that countries like Pakistan receive millions of pounds from the British taxpayer every year and yet Christian communities in the country are facing increasing hostility. He said that it shouldn’t be taken lightly. This warning adds to his previous comments that Pakistan is the most dangerous country on the earth.
His strong words seem to have encouraged Pakistani Christians in the UK and they held a protest in front of the conference centre on October 2 where many parliamentarians, Tory councillors and party supporters sympathised with them.
There are millions of Pakistani Muslims living in the USA and Europe, and hundreds and thousands more living in the UK, where interestingly the UK government has vowed to protect the Muslims and their community centres. Shouldn’t Pakistan take a leaf out of their book in how to treat minorities with respect and humanity?
We saw that after Lee Rigby’s murder some extremists tried to take advantage of these incidents, but the government did not let them succeed, and those who attacked mosques and community centres were punished.
Although Pakistani Muslims condemned the attack in Peshawar, I fail to understand whether it was because of fear of backlash, they were grieved or because they are embarrassed because it hasn’t just damaged their struggles for promoting a better image of Pakistan overseas, but also the image of Islam.
Every time Christian churches or their villages are attacked, it is condemned widely. Several references are quoted from the Quran and Hadiths about the protection of minorities and treatment to them in Islamic countries but practically nothing changes.
Such incidents in Pakistan not only cause embarrassment but can endanger the nation’s future. I saw an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper about Christians’ demands for a separate state where they can have freedom, full rights and live their lives according to their religion. These were the reasons for the divide with India. There are many enemies of Pakistan and we should not let them succeed this time. The attack on Peshawar could be a gamer-changer but the question is, for better or for worse?