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Christians in the Muslim World

Will Pakistan be an Iran with the A-bomb?

"What is happening in Pakistan parallels what is happening elsewhere. Throughout the world Islam is facing a real problem; battle lines have been drawn between modernists on the one hand and extremists and fundamentalists on the other. This can be seen in Iraq, Afghanistan and in our own country. The violent attacks against Benazir Bhutto or Musharraf show how, in the eyes of the violent extremists who promote terrorism, taking a 'liberal' position, one that is open to the West, makes you an enemy who must be fought and eliminated."


Mgr Anthony Lobo, Bishop of Islamabad in Pakistan, soberly and without any illusions comments his country's present instability.


"Extremists from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait opened schools in Pakistan teaching a Wahhabi-style of Islam which is now spreading among the population. This way we now have Pakistanis who find inspiration in a Saudi or Egyptian ideology. In my diocese a large area is very much under the threat of the Taliban. Some time ago our two schools, one for boys and the other for girls, were taken over, one by the army and the other by the Taliban, who started shooting at and fighting each other. This terrified our pupils; it put their lives as well as those of their parents and of the sisters who run the schools at risk. We live in a de facto war situation."


When did fundamentalism start to expand so much?


"In the eighties, under the dictatorship of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan saw Islamic law applied more extensively at a time of large scale inflow of refugees and weapons from Afghanistan. The general favoured the spread of fundamentalism because he saw it as a tool to bolster his power over a people that did not accept him. Those who rose to power at that time do not want to lose their positions even if it means bloodshed."


The world media would like to see a more stable Pakistan even though many fear it might turn into another Iran . . .


"We can reach stability if adversaries talk to one another, but you can only talk to those who are willing to listen, not to those who want to eliminate you by force on the basis of a false interpretation of their own religious tradition. An unstable Pakistan is a frightening prospect because if the country ultimately falls to fundamentalism it would be worst than in Iran since it has atomic weapons. And the international community does not overlook this."


Is it more realistic to expect that a push for stability will come from the outside, from the West for instance, or from inside?


"In Pakistan there are some intellectuals who write about and practice a kind of Islam that is open to and respectful of other religious groups. Europe and the United States must encourage them, back them up. In fact change in Islam cannot come from the outside; it must originate from within."


In such an explosive context have you ever come close to death?


"I don't have the time to worry about it. I have to go where they call me, where my fellow Christians are in danger. I have to talk to the authorities, raise their awareness; I must move the mass media. I have no time left for me to feel threatened".