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Christians in the Muslim World

Pakistan, where hatred is generated against Christians

Interview with Mons. Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi and President of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan, by Claudio Fontana

After the attack of Peshawar, Paul Bhatti spoke out against the “foreign powers” that want to destabilize the country and he accused the government of not sufficiently protecting the minority. Do you think Bhatti is right in accusing external powers of the attempts against Christians in Pakistan or sees it as an internal problem in Pakistan? Since the election of Nawaz Shariz has the government attitude to the Pakistan minority changed or is it still that of Gilani?



This is a very political question which is difficult to answer. He needs to keep in mind however, that the extremist groups that attacked the church in Peshawar also sent out a communication in which he attributes the attack to himself and affirms that he will continue to repeat the actions to stop the attacks of the American drones in Pakistan. Do you know what an attack with drones is? This extremist group declared that so long as they continue the drone attack, they will continue to attack more and more churches. Therefore, the point is not what Paul Bhatti said but what those who carried out the attacks said. It is too soon to see if the government behavior will change with Nawaz Shariz but certainly the problem of extremist religious groups and the Taliban is a very big problem for the government itself. You must know that While at the beginning it was only an Afghan problem, now we have the Pakistan Taliban openly fighting against our government. The government talks of dialogue but some think that dialogue cannot work with this type of extremist groups. A decision must be made on how to proceed, what to do which is a very problematic decision and there is no easy answer to the threats of the Pakistan Taliban, who openly declare that they will not accept democracy while in Pakistan our government is democratic. The Taliban are a real anti-state element.



Where do you think hatred is cultivated against Christians in Pakistan? Dou you believe that the numerous madrasse in your country have a role?



It is a very complex story. Not all the madrasse are problematic. Some have been active for centuries. It was only when the URSS invaded Afghanistan in 1979 that the situation deteriorated. We were in a situation in which the Western world was afraid. There was the Cold War and communism and in Europe the wall of Berlin still existed. The URSS was a superpower and there was the danger of the Afghanistan becoming communist allowing the Russians to enter the Gulf. The Western strategy was therefore to block communism with the help of Saudi Arabia. People and groups were formed in the name of the jihad, the holy war, and some of them underwent brainwashing in some madrasse with the idea of the holy war: go and fight against communist atheists. This is when the Osama Bin Laden story starts, who didn’t come from Afghanistan but from Saudi Arabia and he was with the Americans. Therefore, as you can see it was all an outcome of American politics. And now we are suffering in Pakistan where the war continues under another form. In Afghanistan they have the Nato forces, and those who previously fought for freedom come against the Soviet Union are now called terrorists. But the Taliban say: “you call us terrorists? The United States are terrorists, They attack us with drones, killing women and children. When you read in newspapers that five terrorists have been killed you don’t know how many others were killed in the attacks because this is a guerrilla and not a conventional war. The USA fly their drones in Afghanistan from where they launch their missiles in Pakistan. And each time five terrorists die twenty –five women and children also die. The Muslims are very angry or at least the Taliban are.



What is left in the Pakistan Christian community of Shahbaz Bhatti’s testimony?



We consider him a martyr because when the terrorists threatened him and some friends advised him to go abroad, to his brothers in Canada or Italy, he refused saying: “ I am the minister of the minorities. I want to do my duty. I have done nothing wrong and therefore why should I be afraid? I am a Christian, a practicing Catholic”. He had the courage to say the truth and to remain firm to the responsibilities he had. A great witness to faith. And even before he died the Pakistan Christians referred to him because he was not just a politician but an activist of human rights. Everyone knew him and when he was killed it was a great shock. It was not only the Christians who suffered for his death because he was the minister of all the minorities and the Hindus, the Sikhs and Zoroastrians joined in the sorrow… Everyone was shocked by his death because he authentically gave voice to the religious minorities.