Islamic State could soon be launching a wave of attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the country's military has warned.
According to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), the Pakistani Army has begun warning individual Christians, churches and Christian institutions in the country that jihadists could attack imminently. The BPCA also reports that the Pakistani military has been "purging IS sympathisers from its ranks".
Though the government has insisted that ISIS has no credible presence in Pakistan, some factions and splinter groups of the Pakistani Taliban have pledged loyalty to Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, purportedly including the former Pakistani Taliban Commander, Hafiz Saed Khan.
ISIS has not yet formally accepted this allegiance, or claimed responsibility for any attacks carried out in Pakistan, Reuters reports.
"While in one sense it is heartening that the Pakistani Army is at least giving warnings to church leaders, it should not blind us to the fact that this is in effect a tacit recognition of the utterly vulnerable state of Christians and Christian institutions in Pakistan," said Wilson Chowdhry, BPCA chairman in response to the latest news.
"Many of the conditions for genocide of Christians have long been in place in Pakistan, and earlier this year the government itself was inciting hatred against Christians, along with the media, in the aftermath of the double church suicide bombing."
Chowdhry said the warnings reflected a "worsening reality" for Pakistani Christians, who already face persecution.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in May urged the Obama administration to designate Pakistan a "country of particular concern" and blamed the Pakistani government for failing to provide adequate protection to targeted groups. Human rights groups say Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws are frequently misused by extremists, and false charges brought against Christians in order to settle personal scores or to seize property or businesses.
The BPCA has launched a petition calling on the UK Home Office to change the way it defines the treatment of Christians in Pakistan. Find out more here.