Wednesday, July 18, 2018

RLPB 464. Pakistan: 25 July polls bode ill for Christians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 464 | Wed 18 Jul 2018

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by Elizabeth Kendal

On 25 July Pakistanis will go to the polls to vote for new National and Provincial Assemblies. Terrorism is escalating. There have been four terror attacks in the past week alone -- one by the Pakistani Taliban [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)] on 10 July and three by Islamic State on 13 July -- leaving around 180 dead and more than 230 wounded. Tensions are soaring. Out of 85,307 polling stations, 20,789 have been deemed 'sensitive' -- that is, sites where violent clashes are likely to occur. Security is being stepped up everywhere. For Christians the prospects are gloomy indeed. The three main parties battling for control of the Assemblies are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N, centre right), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP, centre left) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (or Justice Party, PTI) led by the London-educated former cricket captain Imran Khan (65). Khan's political position would be best described as pragmatic and populist. Despite the looming financial crisis, Khan is promising to create an 'Islamic welfare state'. He is also winning favour amongst Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalist clerics and radicalised Muslim masses with his vocal pledges to defend Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law. The military and judiciary appear to be clearing the path for a PTI victory.

Bilawal Bhutto (PPP), Nawaz Sharif (PML-N), Imran Khan (PTI).
As Prime Minister, Sharif wanted the military to cut its ties
with militants and come under civilian control.
He was arrested and jailed on 13 July.

The door has been opened for hardline Islamists and even jihadists to register as candidates. Headed by Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has been approved to run. The TLP shot to fame in November 2017 when it staged an anti-blasphemy 'sit-in', paralysing Islamabad for 20 days and ultimately forcing the government to capitulate to its demands, including that Asia Bibi -- a Christian woman on death row for 'blasphemy' -- not be sent abroad [see RLPB 434 (29 Nov 2017)]. The TLP (which wants Asia Bibi executed) will field 178 candidates across the country. In total, religious parties will field a record 460 candidates for the National Assembly.

Some of these religious parties are known fronts for banned jihadists and terror groups. When the Electoral Commission of Pakistan refused to register the Milli Muslim League, deeming it a front for the proscribed terror group, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the MML simply shifted its 265 candidates under the umbrella of Allah-O-Akbar Tehreek (AAT), an old Islamist political party. Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), which serves as a front for the militantly anti-Shia 'Sipah-e-Sahaba', is fielding candidates through the Rah-i-Haq party. The courts have approved Aurangzeb Farooqi's candidacy despite his being on Pakistan's terror watch list. Senators from both the PML-N and PPP have expressed concern that banned militant organisations are being mainstreamed. Indian analyst Brigadier Sk Chatterji (Retd) explains that the Army -- which has long used these terror groups as 'strategic partners' -- seems keen to extend that partnership into the National Assembly. It is highly likely that whoever rules Pakistan will have to do quid pro quo deals with militant Islamist groups in order to get legislation through the parliament. Whilst that is nothing new, it could well be more costly now, with mandatory death for blasphemy high on the Islamist agenda.

As for Pakistan's Christians, World Watch Monitor reports that 'the country's minorities -- particularly its Christians -- have expressed dismay at their lack of representation among the candidates. Among the thousands of candidates contesting hundreds of provincial and national constituencies across the country, not a single Christian is nominated by any party ...' Christian leaders are encouraging Christians to 'vote for candidates and political parties that really deal with minority rights issues'. Those issues include 'religion based discrimination, violation of fundamental rights, misuse of blasphemy law, indifference from government, intolerance' and the 'biased curriculum being taught in the schools and universities' which 'inculcates religious intolerance among the students'. The total lack of political representation indicates that many (if not most) of Pakistan's elites increasingly view Christians less as a marginalised minority and more as an irrelevant irritant. This is a dangerous and deteriorating situation.

Pakistani Christian women pray. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
image source: Christians in Pakistan


* draw Pakistan's vulnerable Christian minority close to himself and shield them from Islamic terror attacks and pogroms; may every evil plot be thwarted and may 'the wicked fall into their own nets' (from Psalm 141:8-10 ESV).

* intervene in Pakistani politics, so that his precious children will not be left without a voice in parliament; may the Lord elevate influential candidates of conscience who will 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves' and 'defend the rights of the poor and needy' -- Christians included (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).

* awaken influential world leaders of conscience to the plight of Pakistan's persecuted Christian minority.


On 25 July Pakistanis will vote for new National and Provincial Assemblies. Terrorism is escalating and clashes are expected. Together the military and judiciary are setting the stage for a win by the pragmatic and populist Imran Khan (65). His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (or Justice Party, PTI) has closed the gap with its nearest rival, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Along with promising Pakistanis an 'Islamic welfare state', London-educated Khan has vowed to defend the controversial blasphemy law. Hardline Islamist anti-blasphemy party Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) will stand in 178 seats across the country; indeed Islamist parties will field a record 460 candidates, many of whom are known members of banned terror groups. Increasingly viewed as irrelevant, not one Christian has been nominated by any party. Please pray for the Church in Pakistan.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).