Friday, August 22, 2008

Who is in charge is likely of little consequence to Christians in Pakistan

With the resignation of President Musharraf of Pakistan this week, the question that I have been asked by reporters is, what difference will this mean for Christians in Pakistan.

The truth is, it probably won't make of a difference at all.

Many Christians and their leaders publicly rejoiced when Musharraf took power in 1999 in a bloodless military coup, as the civilian government had been rather indifferent, even hostile, to its tiny Christian minority.  Many felt that Musharraf would provide a secularizing influence on the country, standing as a bulwark against the rising threat of militant Islam.  This he did, to varying degrees of success.  He did attempt to deal constructively with the infamous blasphemy laws which are abused to intimidate and punish Christians who run afoul of Muslim neighbours and business rivals, but was forced to back down after intense pressure from Muslim clerics.

Now many of the same leaders are rejoicing at the return to civilian rule and claiming that persecution rose during Musharraf's rule.  It all smacks of political opportunism to me; just making sure that you are seen to be on the winning side.

Christians in Pakistan make up only a tiny minority of around 1.5% of Pakistan's population.  As such, they are subject to constant societal discrimination and liability to violent attacks.  It probably doesn't matter much who is in power, since the persecution really doesn't come directly from the state so much as it does from mobs who are unlikely to be punished regardless of who lives in presidential palace.

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