Wednesday, October 14, 2009

026. Pakistan: Taliban insurgency escalates

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 026 | Wed 14 Oct 2009

By Elizabeth Kendal

An alliance of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban forces declared war on the government of Pakistan in July 2007. By April 2009 only the Margala Hills lay between the jihadists and Islamabad (see RLPB 002, 29 April 09). Pakistani troops spent the northern summer driving the jihadists back. But the jihadists were not defeated -- they merely staged a tactical withdrawal and melted into the civilian population, awaiting the opportunity to launch rearguard actions (see RLPB 006, 27 May 09). On 5 August 2009 Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike. No sooner had Hakimullah Mehsud been appointed as the new Taliban chief than he publicly vowed not only to avenge Baitullah's death, but to severely punish Pakistani authorities for their attacks on al-Qaeda-Taliban sanctuaries in the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan (North West Frontier Province).

Pakistan has just suffered four highly significant terrorist attacks in the space of seven days. On 5 October a suicide bomber wearing the uniform of the Frontier Constabulary walked into the UN's World Food Programme office in the heart of Islamabad and blew himself up, killing five and wounding four. Then on 9 October a car bomb exploded in the busy Khyber Bazaar in Peshawar, the NWFP capital, killing 49 and wounding more than 100. The car's doors had been fitted not merely with over 100kg of explosive, but with a great quantity of machine gun ammunition to maximise casualties. On 10 October suicide jihadists wearing Pakistani Army camouflage uniforms infiltrated Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad. Grenades were thrown, guns were fired, people were killed and hostages were taken before Pakistani elite troops contained the militants and took control. The sole surviving militant, a senior Taliban commander and terror-mastermind named Muhammad Aqeel alias Dr Usman, is now in custody. Dr Usman, who had been arrested previously for his involvement in the September 2008 Marriott bombing, served in the Pakistani Army Medical Corps until 2006 when he deserted to the jihadists. The fourth attack was on 12 October when a suicide jihadist drove a massive car bomb into a military convoy in Shangla, NWFP, killing 41 including six security personnel.

Security officials report that the militants who attacked the army headquarters appeared to have links to Punjab, the province where anti-Christian violence is rampant (see recent RLPBs 012, 016, 023). For decades now -- while all the focus has been on NWFP, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the AfPak border -- Islamic fundamentalist Salafi madrassas have been proliferating across Punjab. For years politicians have been pleased to use Punjab's main fundamentalist organisations as vote banks, making quid pro quo deals for political gain. These groups were created by the security services in the 1980s to facilitate the Islamisation process but now they are aligning themselves with the Pakistani Taliban of Hakimullah Mehsud. Any government effort to root out fundamentalist Islam in Punjab could trigger a massive eruption, further splitting the military and shredding the social fabric.

God is sovereign and there is no doubt he is at work in and through all this, including whatever is to come. But Pakistan's 3.6 million Christians need our prayers that they will find sanctuary amidst this storm.


* the Holy Spirit of God to uplift and shield all Pakistani Christians so they may be firm in their faith, not afraid, with eyes fixed on Jesus; may they find sanctuary in their sovereign Lord (Isaiah 8:12-14).

* God to bless the witness of Pakistan's Christians as they seek to display grace, love, peace and faith in the midst of severe trial; may God be pleased to use their witness for his glory and for saving many lives.

'Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever . . . The way of the wicked he brings to ruin.' (Excerpts from Psalm 146 ESV)



Since declaring war on the Pakistan government in July 2007, the Pakistani Taliban has made great gains. After Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile strike on 5 August 2009, the new Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud vowed revenge. Four recent major terrorist attacks within the period of a week killed around 100 and wounded many more. As this war intensifies, it is becoming apparent that Punjabi fundamentalists and rogue military pose a serious threat to Pakistani security. The more the Taliban insurgency escalates the more vulnerable Pakistan's 3.6 million Christians become amidst the turmoil. The situation is critical. Please pray that God will draw Pakistan's Christians close to him and use their witness for his glory.