Wednesday, April 29, 2009

002. Pakistan: Islamabad Church on the threshold of war

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 002 | Wed 29 Apr 2009

PAKISTAN: ISLAMABAD CHURCH ON THE THRESHOLD OF WAR
By Elizabeth Kendal

-- 'land-for-peace' brings Islamabad into al-Qaeda-Taliban's sights.
-- a special prayer bulletin for extraordinary times.

The Margala Hills are all that lie between al-Qaeda-Taliban jihadists and their goal: nuclear-armed Islamabad. While most popular media reports give the impression that this crisis has only recently emerged, this is far from the case. The reality must be absorbed and lessons must be learned.

In 2003, as part of their 'War on Terror' alliance, America and Pakistan agreed that the Pakistani Army be given the job of eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However, a high death toll -- including the loss of possibly 3000 soldiers -- weakened both Army moral and public resolve, creating domestic political problems for then-president General Musharraf.

In pursuit of political gain, Musharraf brokered 'land-for-peace' deals with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. In February 2005 South Waziristan was ceded, followed by North Waziristan in September 2006. With this 'peace', the military withdrew and jihadists were released from prison with compensation on a mere pledge not to engage in terrorism. If there were a turning point in the 'War on Terror', this unconditional surrender of Waziristan was surely it, for the power of the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance has grown in both Afghanistan and Pakistan ever since.

The jihadists were never going to be pacified so long as their goal -- the total Islamisation and Talibanisation of fortress Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan -- remained unchanged and unrealised. The 'Islamic Republic of Waziristan' simply became a terrorist sanctuary and launching pad for further advances. Within months several more tribal areas had fallen under Taliban control. ('Land-for-peace' deals with agenda-driven fundamentalist Islamists and jihadists secure incremental Islamist advance, not peace.)

In July 2007 the government's assault on the Islamists of the Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque in the centre of Islamabad) left some 100 Islamists dead. (The Islamists say thousands died, including children.) Consequently in September 2007 Al-Qaeda declared jihad against the government of Pakistan and the war was on in earnest. This war pits a determined al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance (with numerous high-level sympathisers) against an unstable and equivocating Pakistani government and a conflicted and divided Pakistani Army plagued by Pashtun and Sunni defections.

In the 18 months since, the jihadists have held or captured all the tribal areas. In February 2009 President Asif Ali Zardari brokered a 'sharia-for-peace' deal with the Taliban in Malakand Division which comprises one third of NWFP and includes the glorious, albeit Taliban-held, Swat Valley. All of NWFP is now either ceded to the Taliban or under some degree of Taliban control or influence.

Emboldened by its Malakand victory and its advances in strategic Peshawar, the Taliban launched its Spring Offensive with a further escalation. In early April a more united Taliban (see RLP 518, 23 Feb 2009) surged with little resistance south east from Swat towards Islamabad, infiltrating Buner District (covered by the February 'peace' accord ) in a 'blitzkreig'. From there, they immediately entered Haripur District which borders the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. According to most Western and Indian analysis and intelligence, Pakistan's fall is inevitable and imminent, although according to Pakistan, this assessment is 'ridiculous'.

The Church in Pakistan's NWFP is already suffering severe repression and persecution under Taliban tyranny. Christians there are living in fear and paying jizya, the'tax' or protection money demanded of subjugated Jews and Christians in the Quran (Sura 9:29). Their lives are always in the balance. The Church in Islamabad stands on the brink of the same fate. If the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance manages to capture Islamabad in the months ahead, the world will instantly become a different place, and the Church in Islamabad and across Pakistan will see suffering and persecution unlike anything it has ever known before.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Spirit of God will move powerfully in the churches of Pakistan, so there may not be a crisis of faith amidst the crisis of security; may grace and light radiate into Pakistan's darkness from every church and individual believer, for the glory of God.

* God our Almighty Father will powerfully and supernaturally protect, deliver, sustain and preserve his church in Pakistan so life might come to Pakistan by his power and grace through the testimony of the Church. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

'. . .strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered. . .' (Romans 15:30 ESV)

* Christ will set captives free, open the eyes of the blind (Luke 4:18), and reveal himself to those who are seeking truth, righteousness and a new way (Isaiah 55:6,7) as well as to those who are not (Isaiah 65:1); may blessing arise out of this crisis.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCH IN PAKISTAN UNDER THREAT OF WAR

Ever since February 2005 the government of Pakistan has been pursuing political gain by brokering 'land-for-peace' deals with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. Each such deal has secured incremental al-Qaeda-Taliban advance, not peace. With each territorial gain, the terrorists -- whose goal of total control is yet to be realised -- have expanded their sanctuary. All of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is now either ceded to the Taliban or under various degrees of Taliban control or influence. Christians there are suffering severe repression and persecution. In early April the al-Qaeda-Taliban Spring Offensive brought the jihadists to within 100km of Islamabad. This serious threat to Pakistan, to the world, and most immediately to the Pakistani Church is very real. Please pray.