With the increasing strength of Taliban forces in the country, Pakistan is becoming a more dangerous place for Christians and other religious minorities to live.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has named Pakistan as one of 13 countries where the government condones or supports violence against religious minorities.
The 2009 report by the group said that this year “has seen the largely unchecked growth in the power and reach of religiously-motivated extremist groups whose members are engaged in violence in Pakistan and abroad, with Pakistani authorities ceding effective control to armed insurgents espousing a radical Islam ideology”.
Earlier this year the Pakistani government ceded control of the Swat Valley area to Taliban militants, who have proceeded to implement their own harsh version of Sharia law on the area.
The Taliban has since been increasing in power and boldness in Pakistan and some fear they could be attempting to take over the whole country. They have already described the Pakistani government and army as “enemies of Muslims”.
Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman has said, “Either we’ll be martyred or we’ll march forward,” reports AsiaNews.
The Catholic Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, said, “The present government believes in the principles of tolerance, human equality and peaceful co-existence.”
Bhatti said demands by the Taliban that non-Muslims should pay a Jizia poll tax were totally unacceptable. He said that non-Muslims in Pakistan should be treated as equal citizens, not as conquered people.
Article 20 of the Pakistani Constitution states that “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion”.
Last weekend activists and civil society groups launched a petition in Karachi against the Taliban and the imposition of Sharia law in the Swat Valley.
Taliban power growing in Pakistan
Published 09 May 2009 | Anne Thomas