Why Christians are fleeing Pakistan
Though Christians in Pakistan have never been safe or given the equal citizenship status promised to their forefathers by the Quaid e Azam, and despite of all the disparity, suffering and deprivation, they hoped that one day they would be considered an equal and that their situation would improve.
But now they seem completely despondent and see no end to their miseries. They have lost all hope and have started fleeing to different countries in search of peace and security. They are going somewhere where they will be treated with dignity and respect and can practice their religion with freedom. Somewhere where they can lead their lives without fear of persecution because of their Christian faith.
In fact Christians realised years ago that Pakistan holds no future for them, as soon after the death of the Quaid e Azam the social and political situation started turning against them, the Objective Resolution was adopted in 1949, and subsequently the constitution in which they were permanently barred from becoming president and prime minister of the country was passed.
Christians took part in the movement of Pakistan and supported Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his struggle. He promised equal status in the new country and he made it clear in his first presidential speech that: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan.
“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.
He set an example by appointing several people from minorities on very high posts like Joginder Nath Mandel (Hindu) as law minister and Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (Ahmadiyya Muslim) as foreign minister, while Mr S P Singha was already a speaker who had played a main role in making present Punjab part of Pakistan.
Without Christian parliamentarians’ support, Pakistan’s geography would have been different, but the irony is that Christians are suffering most in this province. Although hatred against them continues to grow throughout the country, statistically they are suffering most in this province.
A large number of false blasphemy cases are being registered against them in Pakistan, kidnapping and forced conversion of Christian girls is common, the majority of their churches have been ransacked, desecrated and burnt in Punjab, most of their settlements have been set on fire in this province and more Christians than anywhere else have been killed extra judicially and even burnt alive in this province.
Youhanabad, where 17 Christians were killed and 80 were injured in a twin suicide bomb attack in March is a constituency of Mian Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab, and the Prime Minister’s brother. But he has never visited his constituents to find out about their wellbeing, or to support them during their difficult times.
I cannot find an example of such recklessness, discrimination and hateful behaviour of any MP towards his own constituents anywhere else in the world, or even elsewhere in Pakistan.
The world’s political and religious leaders have expressed their concerns and several reports have been prepared by international organisations witnessing Christians’ persecution, but it is all falling on deaf ears and I am disappointed as there are no signs of change.
Politicians seem oblivious and the lack of will, while the voices from other quarters like academics, artists, writers are also very low compared to what Indian film makers, actors, writers, politicians and academics have done in India against the new wave of discrimination against minorities, and particularly against Muslims.
The Pakistan Supreme Court has expressed its concern over minorities’ security and ordered a special task force and the establishment National Council for Minorities Rights earlier this year, but as far as I am aware, no progress has been made on either matter.
During the recent hearing of Malik Mumtaz Qadri’s case, the killer of the then governor of the Punjab Salmaan Taseer, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of the misapplication and misuse of the blasphemy law – which is considered a root cause of the Christians’ persecution.
The government and politicians seem unwilling to take any action to bring about changes to the blasphemy law. On the contrary, Islamic groups are asking for Qadri’s release and the execution of all those in prison under blasphemy charges, without due process of justice.
Such behaviour from the government and politicians has disappointed and pushed Christians to the edge. They see no future for themselves and for future generations in Pakistan. Consequently, they have come to the conclusion to flee Pakistan to save their and their children’s lives.
Though this is a painful fact, since they are being forced to flee the country they have no other choice and I think it is somehow a wise decision for Christians in the present scenario, as extremism and religious intolerance continues to rise against them and they are under constant attack.
I have to admit that this is not a solution. But as the government and Muslim politicians are turning a blind eye to their persecution. The responsibility to address these issues rests on the shoulders of Christian political and religious leadership to address these issues.
But unfortunately it seems that some of the leadership has compromised and become subservient to the government, while others have lost all hope and interest and have already fled to seek asylum in other countries.
Intellectuals, NGOs’ workers, journalists and influential individuals have also fled Pakistan, those who are left behind are busy in packing their suitcases because nobody feels safe in Pakistan. There are witnesses that Christians are not safe and have no future in Pakistan.
The Netherlands has recently designated Pakistani Christians the status of a ‘high risk group”, while struggles for a similar status are ongoing in different countries.
The USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) and UNO have also raised their concerns about the treatment of minorities. Recently the All Party Parliamentarian Group for international Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the House of Lords, organised Evidence Hearing Sessions regarding the ‘Plight of Religious Minorities in Pakistan and as Refugees’.
Lord David Alton has recently come back from visiting Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand, where thousands of them are living in bad conditions but are not willing to return to Pakistan because of the fear of persecution.
A few days earlier a team of European MEPs including Mr. Petr Van Dalen, Mr. Arne Gericke and Mr. Marek Jurek, visited Pakistan to get first-hand information about the ongoing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities because of the misapplication and misuse of the blasphemy law.
They met with Aasia Bibi’s family, the Prime Minister’s advisor on foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz and some other important dignitaries. They also met Christian activists and leaders like Joseph Francis and Bishop Samuel Azariah. I am sure they will use this information to endeavour to bring pressure on the Pakistani government to stop the mistreatment of Christians and other religious minorities.
But keeping in mind the view of Pakistan’s leadership, I have very little hope the situation against Christians and other religious minorities will ever improve. Minorities believe, since they are never accepted equal citizens of the Pakistan and Pakistan was achieved in the name of Islam and as a homeland of Muslims, these are organised, deliberate and sustained attempts of cleansing the country, to make it as pure as its name.