Date: April 18, 2018
by Elizabeth Kendal Christians comprise less than two percent of Pakistan's 200 million people. Systematic racial and religious discrimination ensure Christians remain poor, powerless and persecuted. However, as fundamentalist Islam rises, Islamic jihad spreads and lawlessness deepens, Christian vulnerability and insecurity approach crisis levels. In recent months, Islamic State's franchise in 'Khorasan Province' (Afghanistan and surrounds) has claimed responsibility for three deadly attacks targeting Christians in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's sparsely populated Balochistan Province. On Sunday 17 December at least nine people were killed and more than 50 injured when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church. Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISK-P) claimed responsibility [see RLPB 437 (19 Dec 2017)]. On Easter Monday evening 2 April four members of a Christian family were travelling along Quetta's Shah Zaman road when militants on a motorbike intercepted their rickshaw and opened fire. A young girl was wounded; she was rushed to hospital. Her father and three male cousins were killed. Tariq Masih, a relative of the victims said, 'They were guests of ours, they came from Punjab [Province] to celebrate Easter. As they left the house to go to the bazaar after dinner ... they were fired upon.' Provincial police have labelled it 'a targeted attack' and 'an act of terrorism'. ISK-P claimed responsibility, boasting that a 'covert unit' of ISK-P shot the Christians 'which resulted in the killing of four of them, and all praise is due to Allah'. On Sunday 15 April four men on two motorbikes opened fire on Christians in Quetta's Isa Nagri (City of Jesus, a Christian neighbourhood). Some of the victims were emerging from a worship service; others were just sitting in front of their homes. The victims were rushed to Bolan Medical Complex, Quetta. Azhar Iqbal (26) died at the scene while Rahib Khalid (16) died at the hospital. Two young girls - Mehvish William (13) and Sunaina Shakil (11) - were wounded, as was Chaudhry Samuel (38), a prominent figure in Isa Nagri. According to a doctor, all the victims received multiple bullet wounds. Around 500 Christians filled the streets and demanded the government improve security. Amjad Faryad, an uncle of slain Rashid Khalid, gave voice to Christian fears: 'Why are we coming under attack?' he asked. 'Terrorists are freely attacking us but security forces and the provincial government are playing the role of silent spectator.' Once again, ISK-P claimed responsibility. ISK-P was officially launched in January 2015. The Pakistan Army rejects ISK-P's claims of responsibility and continues to insist that ISK-P does not have a presence in Balochistan. Similarly, the US rejects Russia's assertion that the growth of ISK-P in Afghanistan is 'rather serious', and has criticised Russia's efforts to foster security co-operation in the region. Yet, according to a report in Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor (26 January 2018), 'Wilayat-e-Khorasan, the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, is one of the terrorist group's strongest franchises. Bolstered by defections from the Taliban and boosted further in recent months by an influx of foreign fighters fleeing defeat in Iraq and Syria, IS Khorasan Province (ISK-P) is growing in strength and influence.' Pakistan's Christians, especially those in Quetta, would surely agree with the Russian assessment that this is indeed 'rather serious'. PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL: * protect, comfort, encourage and sustain Pakistan's long-persecuted and increasingly imperilled Christian community, especially the Christians of Quetta who are this day grieving the loss of fellow-believers, neighbours and loved ones. 'But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV) * raise up leaders - men and women of vision, integrity, justice, courage and strength; in civil society, media and politics (domestic and international) - who will be God's instruments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (See Isaiah 45:1-7, regarding God's anointing of Cyrus, King of Persia, to be God's instrument, though he knew it not.) * intervene in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the grassroots level; may the Spirit of God move to open eyes, unstop ears and soften hearts so that evil will be recognised and rejected, and so the Gospel of grace will be seen, heard and received.