Christian residents of Charsadda in the Northwest Province of Pakistan received a threatening letter with an ultimatum of 10 days to convert to Islam or face dire consequences and bomb explosions. The deadline of the ultimatum expires on May 17, 2007. According to All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), copies of the letter are being distributed among the Christians in Charsadda, a town in NWFP where Islamic militants have a heavy presence and are attacking video, audio and barber shops.
APMA says the militants are harassing women to veil themselves and not to attend schools and threatening barber shops to stop shaving beards and mustaches. Charsadda is a town where Federal interior minister of Pakistan, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, narrowly escaped a suicidal attack last month that killed 28 people and injured several. More than 50 Christian families are residing in a Muslim Majority area of Charsadda. Police officials were informed about the letters and security is being stepped up. An e-mail from APMA obtained by ANS [ASSIST News Service] says:
"Over the past years, the influence of religious extremist groups has increased in NWFP and other parts of Pakistan. These pro-Taliban extremists are committing violence in the name of religion to impose their own radical and Taliban style concept of Islam by force, which is worrisome particularly when these elements are taking law in to their own hands, blowing themselves as suicidal bombers and policing the society."
APMA says the ultimatum has further aggravated the sense of insecurity and fear among the Christians of Charsadda as they are spending their days and nights in fear and many are thinking to vacate the area due to threats and possible attacks. "Christians of Pakistan are already facing victimization and discrimination; many innocent Christians are incarcerated and killed and many become targets due to the misuse of blasphemy law by the extremist elements," the organization says. APMA also says:
"Attacks on Churches, Christian schools and other institutions have been experienced by the Christians of Pakistan in the past few years and now the uprise of vigilante groups and the threats have further aggravated the situation. In these circumstances, the government is unable to control the violent activities of militant organizations in Pakistan or provide protection to its citizens. It is noteworthy that Northwest province is ruled by Muthaida Mjlis -e- Amal, MMA (Coalition of pro-Taliban Islamic parties)."
An APMA team visited Charsadda to express their solidarity with the Christians of the area and higher authorities are being informed and asked to increase the security measures and provide protection to the lives and properties of innocent Christians. Christian residents of Charsadda told the APMA team that although they fear for their lives and are mindful that the militants can kill them, they trust God for their protection and cannot succumb to the demands of the Islamic militants.
APMA asks that concerned Christians kindly pray for the protection and safety of Christians of Charsadda, who continue to remain in siege, but undefeated spiritually and continue to uphold their faith in these difficult times. Please also pray for government of Pakistan that God may provide them wisdom and courage to make sincere efforts to control the situation and violence.
From Islamabad, AsiaNews.it reports the same threatening letter was sent to Christian communities in Charsadda and Mardan, ordering the closure of churches and conversion to Islam within 10 days on pain of execution. The police are treating it as a joke. The bishop of Islamabad has expressed deep fear and called for the support of the government the world. The AsiaNews report says: "Convert to Islam within 10 days and shut down all the country's churches: the ultimatum was delivered in a threatening letter that Muslim fundamentalists sent to Christian communities in Charsadda and Mardan, in northern Pakistan. If their orders are not obeyed, 'all Christians will be executed.'" AsiaNews says the letter was sent on May 7 to local churches, who immediately took it to the police. Feroz Shah, district inspector of Charsadda, said he had investigated the matter. "For him," says AsiaNews "'it's a 'joke', and so 'there is no need to make any arrests'. Christians, he added, 'are safe and well-protected in the area.'"
Mgr Anthony Lobo, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, does not share the inspector's view. He told AsiaNews: "This letter is not a joke, but a threat that needs to be taken seriously. It has left the Christian community of Pakistan very frightened. We have already appealed to higher powers in the country to ask for help and we will continue to do so." According to AsiaNews, the bishop said it was important "to understand that even jokes, if aimed at minorities, could become reality. Even if this letter is the work of an isolated madman, it's possible that he may commit some atrocity against Christians."
The bishop added: "Now we must pray, but we cannot stop at that. We have already protested against this situation of fear and uncertainty and we will continue to do so. In the meantime, I appeal to the world to help us in this dangerous struggle against fundamentalism."