20 September, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 24, 1435

Christians vote for protection in Pakistan

Published May 06, 2013 11:04am

christians-protest-karachi-afp-670
Pakistani Christians shout slogans in Karachi during a protest against the attack on the homes of members of the Christian community in Lahore on Saturday. – Photo by AFP

LAHORE: Christians in a Lahore slum where angry people torched more than 100 homes say Pakistan's two largest parties offer the only hope of protection at this week's general election.

The Pakistan Muslim League-N of Nawaz Sharif, a man accused of being soft on the Taliban but tipped to win Saturday's polls, and the main outgoing Pakistan People's Party both gave affected families $5,000 each in compensation.

PML-N is the party in power in Punjab province, the home of the largest Christian community in Pakistan. PPP led the outgoing federal government.

While in the northwest, Christians feel religious parties offer them more protection, voters in Joseph Colony say they will opt for PML-N for the regional assembly and PPP for the national assembly, in gratitude for their support.

“They helped us cover our losses and gave 500,000 rupees ($5,000) to each family. So all of us have decided to vote for them,” said factory worker Sohail Masih.

Pakistan's 86 million registered voters go to the polls on Saturday to elect four provincial assemblies and 272 lawmakers directly into the national assembly.

In the lower house of parliament, another 60 seats are allotted to women and 10 to religious minorities on a party ticket based on proportional representation.

Christians cannot directly elect Christian lawmakers. They vote like everyone else for different parties, which in turn choose their Christian candidates, in a process criticised as “selection” not election.

Only two per cent of Pakistan's overwhelmingly Muslim population of 180 million are Christian. The community is poor and complains of increasing discrimination.

Last week, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom warned that the risk to Pakistan's minorities has reached crisis level. It said blasphemy and other laws are used to “violate religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity”.

Campaigners argue that blasphemy legislation, for which the maximum penalty is death, is often abused to settle personal scores and should be reformed.

Punjab has seen some of the worst cases. A Christian mother was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In the town of Gojra in 2009, a mob burned 77 houses and killed seven people after rumours that a Quran had been desecrated.

Last year, a young Christian girl spent three weeks in jail after being accused of blasphemy before the case was thrown out, although she and her family have been in hiding ever since, fearing for their lives.

Salman Taseer a leading PPP politician, a Muslim and the governor of Punjab, who called for the blasphemy law to be reformed, was shot dead by his bodyguard in protest in January 2011.

At the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, established in downtown Lahore in 1907, Father Andrew Niasari said his congregation feared conservative political parties and favoured the PML-N and PPP.

“Christians are afraid of these parties, therefore Christians go to liberal parties, progressive parties,” he told AFP.

But in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which runs into strongholds of the Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked groups, Christian candidates have aligned themselves with and sought protection from right-wing Islamic religious parties.

Pervaiz Masih was first elected to parliament on the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) list in 2002 and is again their Christian candidate on Saturday.

He lives in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which has been on the frontline of a six-year domestic Taliban insurgency, and believes the religious parties offer his community the best protection.

He gives an example by recalling one incident in August 2009.

“Some Christians were drinking close to a mosque in Peshawar and it was the call for prayer. When people arrived they became furious... I rushed to the site and talked to the people of Jamaat-e-Islami and convinced them to go back,” he said.

“God ordered me to work here in a religious party; I am a bridge between Christian and Muslim.”

Back in Joseph Colony, few people believe that Islamists can protect them.

Samuel, a medical student says he would consider voting for a religious party if it would help Christians and minorities. But ultimately he has a more radical solution: leave Pakistan because “minorities don't have security here”.


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Comments (12) (Closed)


Ernest( Australia)
May 07, 2013 03:01am
PTI (Soo chowey gha key bily huj ko chalee, huj too yad raha chowey bhool gai) wen he needed money for the Hospital he went to west for collection, and now he says he will not beg, what HIPOCRATE then he says ( IF) he wins he will make Christian wear black cloths for identification.who could not keep his own hose in order, then how he will keep the country like PAKISTAN IN ORDER (sweet dreams kHAN)
Ernest( Australia)
May 07, 2013 03:06am
You don't need NAYA Pakistan you need better Pakistan for every one to live peacefully no discrimation on religion sect or cast rich or poor , just be the creation of God live in harmony
ahmad butt
May 06, 2013 07:04pm
He is being tested by the political and religious mafia, this was another bouncer that he has played carefully, after that Tuq Tuq Qadri wanted him to join in a bogus revolution. Why isnt Nawaz Sharif and others being asked the same question? What their take to this issue? We will never hear but Imran Khan and PTI faces such baseless questions
Zameer
May 06, 2013 08:50am
If we were to listen to Imran Khan's recent hate proclamation about Ahmedis, then there is no hope either. And don't blame the foreign hand in breaking Pakistan. It is all home grown hatred.
Fappy
May 06, 2013 05:48pm
Correction my friend, Muslims treat each other worse just visit Middle East!
Pravin
May 06, 2013 07:11am
This is how Muslims treat minorities everywhere
Gerry D'Cunha
May 06, 2013 04:45pm
there is only one liberal party in pakistan, MQM who can provide protection for the minorities - PTI will focus only on its own issues, leaving the minorities issue in abeyance
Abbas
May 06, 2013 07:56am
No,,,,,,my friend , Muslims treat everyone the same. But as you can see the situation in Pakistan is very very very complex and extremely bad, bombs, target killings, Shias killings, suicide bombings , no law and order, country is run by powerful evil mafia backed by the western anti Pakistani groups .......in this situation how can one except any body is goin to be safe, not even Muslims are safe in Pakistan . It's time for INSHAHALLAH naya Pakistan so please vote PTI for change and peace and give these new guys a chance. It's time that Pakistanis should come altogether and be united against any evil and no more Muslim or Hindu or Christian stuff at times like this we are just desi Pakistanis that's all and stick tight and stay steady.
Gerry D'Cunha
May 06, 2013 04:26pm
My dear christrians brothers and sisters please do not have high hopes in the next new set up government - they have been hijacked by the talibans - their own muslims sect have fear for their living - God alone knows what will be the state of pakistan and its people, if the soft corner party for the talibans come into power.
Atique Ahmed
May 06, 2013 12:05pm
Minorities must vote for Imran Khan.He is not only committed to providing protection to them physically but also to educate people and make them realize that it is their duty to protect minorities. Zardaris and Sharifs are corrupt and in politics to become as rich as possible. PTI must win to keep these greedy and selfish people out.
gangadin
May 06, 2013 03:57pm
"He is not only committed to providing protection to them physically" Physical protection? How is he going to do that? Guard their houses with a bat in his hand?
Agha Ata (USA)
May 06, 2013 01:06pm
That is sad, very sad. But that is the truth. :(