After military action, Pakistani Christians express concern

October 9, 2001

With violent protests erupting in Pakistan against the military strikes by the United States and the United Kingdom in neighboring Afghanistan, leading Pakistani Christians have expressed concern about the situation.

'The situation is not good. There are protests in all major cities including here in Lahore,' said Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP).

Speaking to ENI by telephone from the NCCP's headquarters, Azariah said that the protesters were claiming that the military attacks were an 'attack on Islam.'

The protesters are reported to oppose both the military strikes and the support offered to the US and its allies by the country's president, General Pervez Musharraf.

In one incident, according to news reports, police used tear gas in the city of Quetta to keep thousands of protesters away from the Serena hotel, where hundreds of foreign journalists are based.

At a news conference, President Musharraf attempted to reassure Pakistanis that the military action in Afghanistan would be 'short' and 'targeted.'

He said that the 'vast majority' of Pakistanis backed his government's support for the air strikes, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported from Pakistan.

Asked about the NCCP's reaction to the attacks, Azariah said that 'this is not the time for us [Pakistani Christians] to make statements.

'This is the time for us to remain quiet and alert. If we say we support the government stand now, we would be inviting trouble,' Azariah said, adding that Christians needed to be 'extremely careful to avoid unnecessary provocations.'

Though there have so far been no reports of assaults on Christian targets in Pakistan by Muslim protesters, Azariah said that foreigners, especially those from western countries, could be targeted by the protesters.

The NCCP groups the Church of Pakistan, Presbyterian Church, Salvation Army and Association of Reformed Presbyterian Churches, accounting for nearly half of the three million Christians in Pakistan.

'Everybody is scared,' Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, told ENI, saying that the situation was 'tense.'

At the same time, he added, 'right now the situation is not panicky and Christians don't have to flee for life.'

Jacob hoped the government would be able to 'keep the protests within hand and control the agitation' though there could be a 'few instances of intolerance.'

'In principle, we condemn war and terrorism as well,' said Jacob, when asked about the propriety of the attacks on Afghanistan.

The US and its allies, he said, should 'be prudent and exercise caution to limit the military action, to eliminate terrorism and should not indulge in adventurism and punish the innocent [Afghan] civilians.'