03 September, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 7, 1435

“The lights are all up, and the choir boys are ready. The church is looking its best,” said 60-year-old Alam, a former missionary who has celebrated his last ten Christmases there.“There's not much left to do but to pray and rejoice.” - File Photo
“The lights are all up, and the choir boys are ready. The church is looking its best,” said 60-year-old Alam, a former missionary who has celebrated his last ten Christmases there.
“There's not much left to do but to pray and rejoice.” - File Photo

SOUTH WAZIRISTAN: This Christmas, pastor Nazir Alam will stoke up a fire, lay a fresh cloth on the altar and welcome parishioners as they arrive at his church in Waziristan, a Pakistani tribal area known as an Al Qaeda haven.

“The lights are all up, and the choir boys are ready. The church is looking its best,” said 60-year-old Alam, a former missionary who has celebrated his last ten Christmases there. “There's not much left to do but to pray and rejoice.”

Outsiders might see little cause for joy. Pakistan is the sixth most dangerous country in the world for minorities, says London-based watchdog Minority Rights Group International.

Christians, Shia Muslims and Ahmadis are victims of a rising tide of deadly attacks. But Alam's church and the homes of most of his 200 parishioners are nestled inside a Pakistani army base in South Waziristan, a mountainous region that was a hotbed of militancy until a military offensive in 2009.

“When the US went into Kabul, things became bad for everyone. But we are safe here. The army protects us,” says Shaan Masih, who helps clean the church and likes to play the drums and sing carols.

For two decades, the church was little more than a room and the tiny community worshipped there under light protection. In 2009, the army set up a base in South Waziristan as part of the offensive against the insurgency and invited the church inside.

“It was a longstanding demand of the community to be given a proper space,” Col. Atif Ali, a military officer, told Reuters during a rare trip to the region arranged by the military.

Many of the Christians work for the army in clerical or domestic positions. So far, they have been sheltered from the bombings, raids and drone strikes, violence that rocks the region on an almost daily basis.

Less than 100 miles away lies North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan and one of the last areas controlled by the Pakistani Taliban.

The United States has repeatedly urged Pakistan to launch an operation against militants sheltered there including remnants of Al Qaeda and Pakistani groups targeting the nation's minorities.

Pakistan says it is doing everything it can to fight the militancy and needs to consolidate the campaign in South Waziristan before opening a new front.

Freshly painted:

The small blue and white church building has been freshly painted and the main hall covered in new ceramic tiles. A small chandelier hangs from the ceiling and a cloth spread over the altar reads: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

The church's gratitude to the army is expressed in a sign outside thanking Ali for his help with the renovation.

“Now it is much easier and convenient for them to worship.

The new building is close to their homes. They are very happy with us,” he said.

While Christians elsewhere in the country are lowering their profile, community members here mix freely with their Muslim neighbours. Their children attend the same schools and neighbours go to each others' weddings and funerals.

When five Christians from Waziristan were kidnapped by the Taliban on their way to the plains of Punjab in 2009, pressure from the army and the community helped free them.

“There are lots of Muslims in our neighbourhood,” said 30-year-old Saleem Masih, another church helper. “We take part in each other's happiness and sorrow. Christmas is coming. You'll see the Muslims will join us.”

Relations between Pakistan's Christians and Muslims are not always so harmonious.

Rimsha Masih, a teenage Christian girl, was accused of blasphemy in Islamabad earlier this year in a case that underlined the climate of fear and suspicion that minorities face.

Masih was eventually cleared of the charges, but many of her neighbours fled their homes and her family is still in hiding.

Nine Christians were killed after a similar accusation in 2009 and mobs frequently lynch anyone accused of blasphemy before they can get to court.

That's one reason why Christians in South Waziristan say they feel safer in their army base than living in Pakistan's capital, where they are vulnerable to accusations from anyone who covets their homes or businesses.

But the main reason, says pastor Alam, is their trust in their neighbors, ordinary Muslims who are also living under the shadow of war.

“If there is one person who kills, there are also so many who protect. We couldn't live here if Muslims didn't give us protection,” said Alam. “Don't forget: where there is bad, there is always good also.”


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Comments (26) (Closed)


A.A.
Dec 24, 2012 01:11pm
We wish you all the best to our Christian brothers. They are patriotic Pakistanis and play their role in whatever good you see in Pakistan.
Ajaya K Dutt
Dec 24, 2012 01:43pm
If there is one person who kills, there are also so many who protect. We couldn’t live here if Muslims didn’t give us protection, There is no such thing for Hindus in Pakistan.
Hindu
Dec 25, 2012 01:04pm
Merry Christmas and happy new year.
Abdul Malik
Dec 24, 2012 02:02pm
Now this is the Pakistan that our Quaid had envisioned. Kudos to Pakistan Army and Col. Ali for providing much needed protection to our Christian community.
Gerry D'Cunha
Dec 24, 2012 01:01pm
we wish and pray, the christians of wazirstan have a nice christmas and spread the message of christ 'forgive your enemies, and pray for them'
Sami
Dec 24, 2012 12:55pm
Now thats the spirit - I hope we can see this is a non event and non news maker in future. All the best and i hope we all humans become humans. Good to read this.. Thanks Sami
raika45
Dec 24, 2012 12:28pm
I hope the authorities will provide these people, in the Christmas spirit, proper protection.These are also your people and deserve all the help they can get in these troubling times.Merry Christmas to all and God bless.
Abbas
Dec 24, 2012 04:13pm
Ohhhhhh woooow what a great thing mr alam said where there is bad there is good also . Wow so very true SUBHANALLAH . And on day Pakistan will be full of only good stories and very one will live happily ever after its my fairy tale wish and dua. Ameen.
Amir Saeed
Dec 25, 2012 11:22am
How do you know the religious identity of all the people who have commented?
Amir Saeed
Dec 25, 2012 11:20am
A very happy Christmas to all Christian brothers and sisters.
rimi
Dec 24, 2012 05:40pm
we wish all Pakistan a Merry Christmas and guyz our Lord is Saviour
rimi
Dec 24, 2012 05:47pm
Jesus protect u all specially who are living in such hard areas and blessings for those who are supporting us, its good to hear all this news. GOD BLESS PAK
Khan
Dec 25, 2012 09:05am
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you in this congregation. I pray our Father in Heaven be with you always and protect you from all kinds of known and unknown dangers.
RV
Dec 24, 2012 06:40pm
My Christmas wish is that Pakistan return to what it was when I was growing up in the late sixties early seventies i.e tolerant and moving foward...
Richard
Dec 24, 2012 07:00pm
Surprising no Muslim reader has commented. Now that this is in the media, some Muslim might create problem. May god look after these Christians
akhter husain
Dec 24, 2012 07:36pm
Every single soul living in this country has an equal right of protection for life,property and faith with out any discrimination. State is trying to do exactly that is required by law, practice and traditions.My salute to army.
Syed Ali
Dec 24, 2012 07:52pm
We Wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a happy NEW YEAR to all the christian brothers and sisters!!
Iftikhar Husain
Dec 25, 2012 12:54pm
Good news for some this should expand to the whole country.
Zia Ullah
Dec 24, 2012 10:44pm
Marry chrismas...we are also Muslim..but you may got the point that everything get worst after US went to kabul....it was not the same situation before
Muhammad
Dec 25, 2012 11:44am
Merry Christmas to our Christian brothers and sisters, our Quaid gave this gift Pakistan to all of us, the white part of the flag is for the minorities , Hindu, Christians , Parsis and everyone else, We should all live like brothers and sisters, anyone attacks them and not Muslims, they are just criminals..We love you our Chrisitan brothers and sisters on this lovely occasion Faiz Muhammad
Sara
Dec 26, 2012 04:56pm
Hats off to the Pakistani Army! They have so much on their plate right now, not to mention the ugly finger pointing from countries bent on hurting Pakistan's image. Well done guys! Merry Christmas to all, especially Pakistani Christians! Keep smiling! :) p.s. Just one Pakistan bashing comment (till now) by an Indian,phew! not too bad...maybe they've picked up another hobby and are now stalking newspaper sites of some other country they hate.
Jaan Mohd
Dec 25, 2012 05:43am
Merry Christmas to all our christian country-fellows
Reality Check Please?
Dec 25, 2012 07:00am
Barra Din Mubarak Ho! Merry Christmas to all the Christians around the World and especially in Pakistan!
hamid Shafiq
Dec 26, 2012 10:41am
unbelievable for me becuase an area which tell to the world that is heaven of terrorist but there is chruch and celebrate christmas great.
shah farooq
Dec 27, 2012 04:27am
Merry Christmas to our Christian brothers and sisters, our Quaid gave this gift Pakistan to all of us, the white part of the flag is for the minorities , Hindu, Christians , Parsis and everyone else, We should all live like brothers and sisters, anyone attacks them and not Muslims, they are just criminals..We love you our Christian brothers and sisters on this lovely occasion
asif Sadiq
Dec 27, 2012 01:38pm
Its great to see the report you have tweet God bless you all my dear ones you all are appreciated you have proved that God never left alone his people , stay Blessed Aameen