“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 are closed.

Comments (26)

A.A.
December 24, 2012 1:11 pm
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
December 24, 2012 1:43 pm
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
December 25, 2012 1:04 pm
Merry Christmas and happy new year.
Abdul Malik
December 24, 2012 2:02 pm
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
December 24, 2012 1:01 pm
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
December 24, 2012 12:55 pm
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
December 24, 2012 12:28 pm
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
December 24, 2012 4:13 pm
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
December 25, 2012 11:22 am
How do you know the religious identity of all the people who have commented?
Amir Saeed
December 25, 2012 11:20 am
A very happy Christmas to all Christian brothers and sisters.
rimi
December 24, 2012 5:40 pm
we wish all Pakistan a Merry Christmas and guyz our Lord is Saviour
rimi
December 24, 2012 5:47 pm
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
December 25, 2012 9:05 am
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
December 24, 2012 6:40 pm
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
December 24, 2012 7:00 pm
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
December 24, 2012 7:36 pm
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
December 24, 2012 7:52 pm
We Wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a happy NEW YEAR to all the christian brothers and sisters!!
Iftikhar Husain
December 25, 2012 12:54 pm
Good news for some this should expand to the whole country.
Zia Ullah
December 24, 2012 10:44 pm
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
December 25, 2012 11:44 am
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
December 26, 2012 4:56 pm
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
December 25, 2012 5:43 am
Merry Christmas to all our christian country-fellows
Reality Check Please?
December 25, 2012 7:00 am
Barra Din Mubarak Ho! Merry Christmas to all the Christians around the World and especially in Pakistan!
hamid Shafiq
December 26, 2012 10:41 am
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
December 27, 2012 4:27 am
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
December 27, 2012 1:38 pm
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
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