|August 25th 2008
|Islamic Protest in Pakistan
“Utter confusion and madness” was how one Pakistani source recently described the situation in his country to me. The country has been plunged into further turmoil.
President Musharraf has finally resigned ahead of plans to impeach him. Suicide bombers struck a military installation in one of the deadliest attacks in the country’s history. And the existence of the new, moderate, secular Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government remains fragile. Meanwhile, the Talibanisation of Pakistan continues apace. Benazir Bhutto may have been right when she warned in her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West, published after her murder: “Pakistan today is the most dangerous place in the world. Pakistan faces the threat of both Talibanisation and Balkanisation, which are gaining in strength.”
The recent abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion of two Christian school girls, Anila and Saba Masih, aged 10 and 13 respectively, is just the latest example of the escalating persecution of religious minorities and growth in extremism. Abducted in southern Punjab, Pakistan on 26 June, while on the way to visit their uncle, they were forced to convert to Islam. When the girls’ parents appealed to the police for help, local authorities did nothing. In an initial court ruling, the judge awarded custody of the girls to the kidnappers, on the basis that since they had converted to Islam they could no longer live with their Christian family. A high court judgment overturned that ruling, but placed the girls in a government-run safe house and prohibiting them from contacting either the abductors or their parents. A hearing this week, on 20 August, failed to reach a conclusion, and another hearing is set for 9 September. If that fails to resolve the case fairly, the girls’ parents may go to the Supreme Court.
Forced conversions, forced marriages and the rape of young Christian girls in Pakistan is not a new phenomena. Last year in Charsadda, North-West Frontier Province, a whole Christian community of 500 people received ultimatums to convert to Islam or face “dire consequences.” When the authorities failed to act, the extremists were emboldened and such threats spread. On Easter Sunday 2007, a 12 year-old Christian girl was kidnapped and repeatedly gang-raped. One of her attackers told his accomplices: “Don’t hesitate to rape a Christian girl. Even if she dies, no one will get us. Her poor parents cannot pursue us.” Earlier in the year, a 14 year-old Christian girl was abducted at gunpoint, raped and beaten. Her attacker, believed to be connected to extremist groups, told her to convert to Islam.
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