Nazir-Ali calls on Pakistan to reform

Published 16 April 2009
|PIC1|The outgoing Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, says his native Pakistan needs to reform if it is to win the war against terrorism.

Bishop Nazir-Ali, who is the first and only Asian to become a Church of England bishop, said that Pakistan had been vulnerable to religious extremism “throughout its history”, and said that “unless co-ordinated international action is taken as a matter of urgency, Pakistan may not survive [the rise of Islamic extremism]”.

Writing in The Telegraph, the bishop said that Taliban and pro al-Qaeda forces were becoming increasingly confident of taking power by force, whilst the recent attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore demonstrated the extent to which Kashmiri liberation groups were becoming emboldened.

To bring about restoration, the bishop said Pakistan needed to rebuild its relationship with India and regain control of internal security by viewing militants, rather than India, as the main security threat.

He urged the revision of textbooks promoting hatred of Christians and Jews and reforms to the Pakistani education system, which currently allows Muslim schools to ignore government advice on the curriculum. If not, he said, “generations of the poor… [would be] allowed to become fodder for Al Qaeda and the Taliban”.

Bishop Nazir-Ali also called on Pakistan to repeal the controversial blasphemy law, which is abused to persecute Christians in the country. While many harsh Islamic laws on women and religious minorities had been modified, others such as the blasphemy law are yet to be changed, he said.

The law, he said, “prescribes a mandatory death penalty for insulting the Prophet of Islam".

"It has been used to terrorise religious minorities and to curb even modest freedoms of expression and of belief," he continued. "Those who declare themselves friends of Pakistan must help to get this law repealed. Many decent and devout Pakistani Muslims are already ashamed of it."

Bishop Nazir-Ali announced his resignation from the position of Bishop of Rochester last week, saying he wanted to devote his time to helping persecuted Christians. He is due to step down in September.

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