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Monday, 18 April 2011

Has the apple tree blossomed?

Is this blossom a nascent phase before the development of ripe fruit?

The ferocity and intensity of attacks on minorities in Pakistan have been been in the main a result of the relative impunity that extremists have enjoyed, when practicing their oppressive acts of tyranny.

During the attack on the city of Gojra in 2009 it took in excess of 2 hours for the Police to arrive. Their insouciance and reticence to get involved culminated in great devastation.

In the majority of Blasphemy cases a perfunctory First Incident Report (FIR) has been produced before any Police investigation, moreover, protests organised by local Imam's have not been policed resulting in carnage.

Last week, however, in two different cities of Pakistan we have seen Police authority professionalism, that has been lacking in recent years.

After the bible desecration incident at St Joseph's Church Lahore (click here), Police responded expediently to requests for help with regards to a breach of peace. This resulted in the arrest of the felon, who subsequently awaits trial under section 295a of the Pakistan Penal Code (a first use of this law for such purpose in my recollection).

This change of Police culture resonates with a sense of hope for our community, personally I would like to see a second charge under section 153A of the Pakistan Penal Code, but in no way do I wish to tarnish the extreme bravery and significant professionalism shown by the Lahore Police authority. This rapid apprehension of the guilty party was able to remove angst from Our Christian community in Pakistan, avoiding any violent overspill and subsequent retaliatory and counter actions.

The huge sense of relief we felt for Christians in Pakistan, was then blemished by reports of two Christians arrested in Pakistan for a rather contrived allegation of a Quran desecration, despite a lack of evidence. After a night of sheer global panic with Global Christians praying for the safety of our brethren in Pakistan and reports of a local Imam triggering an expected arbitrary protest, we were encouraged by news that the two men a father and son where being kept under Police protection and had not been charged. The rudimentary blasphemy charge had been dropped due to a paucity of evidence.

Furthermore, It transpired that Police had protected the Christian inhabitants of Gujaranwala by herding the 100 protesters that gathered as a consequence of local Imam tannoy rantings. Armed Police took up visible surveillance positions on roof tops creating a sense of safety and security. This did not prevent many Christians fearing the "next Gojra" from fleeing the city. Without a doubt, the actions of our capable Police reduced the impact of what could have become a major atrocity. Local Police also responsibly brought leaders of the two communities together, in an attempt to restore peace and congeniality.

Already critics are postulating that this new wave of professionalism and equality have resulted from the recent visit of Prime Minister David Cameron and his offer of a development grant of £665m. Such premise is based on evident increases in; cultural hostility, extremist and conservative Islam and persecution of minorities (particularly of a Christian variety), seen in Pakistan since the "Pakistan Peoples Party" (PPP) have been in power. Many have theorised that the societal breakdown was a temporary relinquishing of authority in an attempt to 'squeeze' more funding from international agents. This would paint a bleak image of the depravity and moral bankruptcy of Pakistan's political elite and as such for hopes sake, I do not dwell for long on this supposition.

I choose to believe this current move towards a more egalitarian Pakistan is a product of international attention being directed on the homeland, resulting from the work of NGO's, global media and of course your very own BPCA. Perhaps the Government is finally enacting the primary duty expected of all national Governments - that of protection for all it's people irrespective of diversity. However, my hopes do not have to be taken in isolation and it would be warranted for observers to hold to a combination of the two propositions.

It would seem for certain that new directives have been given to Police authorities, or alternatively that old directives are now being adhered to. Either way revelations within the recent Human Rights and Democracy report from the UK Foreign Office detail an increase in Police wages in Punjab Province (click here), and I cannot help but think this had some impetus towards the recent change. This salary increase was triggered by pressure from the UK Foreign Office to whom our community should now feel indebted. the Foreign Office also sent British Police to train Pakistani forces and included Humanitarian concepts within the learning. In a recent UK visit from the Interior Minister Rehman Malik, he reported a much wider doubling of Police salary which I will assume was a verbal faux-pas (click here).

Assumption and presumption are a haven for trouble - we should not take it as granted that from here on, persecution in Pakistan immediately terminates. It is essential that we continue our campaigning until such a time that reports of extremism and inequality desist. It should be remembered that Physical attacks are not our only concerns many innocuous concerns such as discriminatory targeting through the labelling of faiths in passports are rife throughout processes in Pakistan.

Societal acceptance for Christians is at an all time low. A Church at Bagram Beg had to sign a caveat limiting times of worship services and introducing a cessation Christian Conversation, whilst on public streets. The police sanctioned the contract in an attempt to reduce offense to Muslims.

Educational and Employment opportunities are limited for our Minorities in Pakistan 86% work as menial labour in the sewage and domestic servitude industries. Only 7% attain adequate levels of literacy.

The fact remains that Pakistan as a nation has fallen from 112th to 125th on the Development indices for the UN (see Foreign Office report listed above). Moreover, there are reports that Pakistan is now "the world's top country for major increases in threats to minorities since 2007" and that it is ranked seventh among the 10 most dangerous countries for minorities, after Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar and Congo(Click here).

Until these stats alter and Pakistan holds a more positive global image - through better national governance. We must persevere with our humanitarian efforts. Till then, we should continue to give credit in a piecemeal fashion.

That said, recent embryonic events have given us a glimmer of hope that should encourage us - Through Christ all things are possible!

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