Christians fear Iraq backlash

By ANWAR IQBAL, UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst   |   Jan. 20, 2003 at 7:51 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Pakistani Christians living in the United States fear that a U.S. military offensive against Iraq could endanger Christians in Pakistan.

Christians are a small minority in Pakistan and dozens of Christians died in targeted killings by Muslim extremists last year.

Their fears have been exacerbated by a pamphlet distributed last week in Pakistan, which urged Muslims to attack Christians to avenge "the defeat of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and an expected U.S. invasion of Iraq."

The Christians have demanded a meeting with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri to discuss the threat. Kasuri is currently in New York and is scheduled to visit Washington next week.

He is the first senior member of the newly elected government in Pakistan to visit the United States.

Along with the request for a meeting, the Christians also have distributed a copy of the message apparently distributed by a group called Jesh-e-Ahle-e-Alqiblat al Jihadi Alsari al Alami.

The message says that U.S. military actions against Muslims have left "no doubts in our minds that Christians are our enemies. They killed thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan and are now getting ready to kill more Muslims in Iraq. We should not sit quietly as they go on killing our fellow Muslims."

It urges Muslims to convert Pakistani Christians and "kill those who refuse to convert."

"The pamphlet is being distributed in various parts of Pakistan," said a Christian leader who did not want to be identified because he feared that it could hurt his relatives back home.

He said religious extremists blame Christians for the Taliban's defeat in Afghanistan and are targeting Pakistani Christians in retaliation.

"The violence against Christians could escalate if Iraq is attacked," he added.

Another Pakistani Christian leader, who also does not want to be identified, wanted to remind "Pakistanis back home" that Pakistani Christians in America were fully cooperating with the government and other Pakistanis in their struggle to get Pakistan off the U.S. government's registration list.

"We will continue to work with the Pakistani government and the Pakistani community in America against these discriminatory American laws," said the leader. "But the Pakistani community should also understand our pain and rise up against religious extremists in Pakistan," he added.

"The registration is painful but not as much as living under a death threat."

He said recently some Christian children in Pakistan received bombs wrapped in Christmas gifts and a church was attacked on the Christmas day.

Three people were killed in this attack and 16 were injured, one of them lost his eyesight.

"This is definitely more serious than the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) registration," added the Christian leader while urging the government in Islamabad to protect Pakistani Christians.

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