In power's grip

Pakistan | Musharraf plays Christians and Muslims against each other; despite election victory, military rule

Issue: "A mighty fortress is our sect," Oct. 20, 2007

Evangelist Joseph Din stopped at home in Lahore, Pakistan, one Saturday afternoon after a preaching engagement, resting before his next prayer meeting with a local family. Din, 74, liked being back in Pakistan, where he could teach scripture in Urdu and people had time to listen. He missed that after seven years in the United States.

Visitors dropped by, and Din, who lived with his sister, forgot to lock the door after they left. Suddenly two young bearded men-strangers-barged in.

"Why are you coming here?" Din asked. The two paused halfway inside the room, pulled out a gun, and shot the elderly man twice in the chest. They tried to shoot Din's sister, Nazir, but hit a wall instead. Din collapsed in his sister's arms, blood streaming out. He died in surgery about an hour later.

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Din's death on Aug. 25 is one of several recent mysterious murders in Pakistan that may be linked to Islamic extremism. Persecution against Christians has climbed this year while the country as a whole shudders under political uncertainty. President Pervez Musharraf, the army head who has ruled since taking power in a 1999 coup, is under increasing pressure to share power and democratize.

On Oct. 6, Musharraf won a new term in an election boycotted by a resurgent opposition. Though he won, the general has endured broad discontent over his interference with the country's Supreme Court. He has been forced to accept Benazir Bhutto, a two-time former prime minister, as a governing partner in her old position. Christians fared better under Bhutto, who is a moderate and a democrat, and hope her return will bring relief from this year's fresh trouble.

Din lived in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore that seemed crime-ridden, his son Samson told WORLD. The murderers did not steal anything, even though Din's sister begged them to take anything they wanted. Din's son Samson, who lives in Virginia with his wife and infant twin sons, believes the men intended only to kill.

Does Samson think the men killed his father because he was Christian? "When I see other cases, I say yes," he said. "We don't have any enemies."

Other cases involving Christians have been plenty in the last few weeks, though it is hard to determine if they were religious killings. Four days after Din's death, a Muslim man shot dead pastor and wife Arif and Kathleen Khan in their home near Islamabad. On Sept. 27, another assailant shot and killed Col. Bo Brekke, the Salvation Army's territorial commander of Pakistan, as he worked alone that evening in his office. In a statement, the organization said it appeared to be "an individual act of criminality."

Whatever the motives, the worry is that the murderers will not see justice. Police have arrested no suspects in the Din case. General corruption and prejudice against Christians means police rarely capture the perpetrators in such cases. Where Muslims have attacked Christians for their faith, sometimes the police are in cahoots with the assailants, said Ann Buwalda, U.S. director of the Jubilee Campaign.

In the Khans' case, some sort of personal grudge seemed at play: It was ex-church member Honey Haveed and his wife who aided in the murder. Police arrested the couple but have not caught the murderer and a third man, who fled to another province.

Reports said it was an honor killing, that Haveed falsely accused Khan of committing adultery with his wife. But even the speculation does not make sense, notes Buwalda. "If it's an honor killing you don't kill the pastor's wife. You may kill the pastor, but you don't kill the pastor's wife."

Political leadership aside, Pakistan's Islamic laws make life hard for religious minorities. Pakistan's Christians are poor and carry little political clout, often finding themselves harassed and charged for blasphemy against Islam. Impugning the name of Muhammad is punishable by death. When Bhutto was prime minister, during 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, no one was convicted of blasphemy in the country's high court, Buwalda said. Her support also showed in quiet but valuable ways: Christians found their municipal services such as water and sewage treatment working.

"She had been very vocal in blasphemy cases, to the point that Muslims said she ought to be accused of blasphemy," said Victor Gill, a Philadelphia-based political commentator and Pakistani Christian.

Bhutto, 54, is the elegant, Oxford-educated daughter of a former prime minister who has carried on her family's political legacy. When she first came to power, the head of the military refused to look his new female leader in the eye, a sign of the hardships she would face heading a Muslim country. With this background, Bhutto has always been an ardent democrat and supporter of women's rights.


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