The conservative Muslim League tends to share the clerical ruling that Christians are not equal citizens, although such a ruling is against the Constitution. Some moderate clerics believe that even under Islam Christians cannot be considered as second-class citizens, but such clerics are ignored.
Under a liberal Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Christians suffer because the PPP is not able to act effectively in punishing society for its criminal behaviour towards Christians. Under General Musharraf’s liberal rule, Christians have come back into the secure fold of joint electorates, but the government is not able to protect them against extremist religious crime.
Christians in most parts of Pakistan predate the establishment of the state and were living in certain parts of the Punjab province before the Muslims were settled there. They are targeted by the draconian law known as the Blasphemy Law with death being the minimum punishment. They are also attacked frequently by fanatics to “punish America”.
Under the joint electorates – which may be abolished if the conservatives return to power – Christians have the right to vote together with the Muslims in addition to having some reserved seats for them in parliament. But as the state is being gradually defeated by the Islamists, the writ of the state has shrunk and the minorities have become vulnerable.
Christians living in the clergy-ruled NWFP have received death threats warning that they must convert to Islam. The enthusiasm for conversion has increased all over Pakistan. Prominent Christians are invited to embrace Islam and some succumb to threats. One Christian singer has defied the “invitation” and is at risk from the extremists, while there is a trend in sports to embrace Islam to avoid persecution. One Hindu judge of the Supreme Court has had to write an eulogy for the prophet Muhammad.
Christians in Pakistan are a deprived community. Unlike India, there are no prospects for their economic advancement. The Church is trying its best to keep the flock together but the Church itself is limited in its persuasion, as elsewhere in the Islamic world. The European Union, which cares for its minorities under law, must keep the government of Pakistan under pressure so that the state retreats from laws that target Christians.
In India, reaction against the Christian church comes from society, but in Pakistan it comes from the state with laws that hurt Christians. Unlike India, Christians receive no protection from sympathetic Muslims in Pakistan. Their only protector is the secular West in general and the European Union in particular, which must keep the state of Pakistan under pressure.
The question of empowering the Church in Pakistan while avoiding its internal corruption is very important while it is complicated. The Church fathers in Pakistan have not always done their best to ameliorate the condition of a very deprived community. Yet, the Church in Pakistan continues to be a very promising actor.