THE High Commissioner of Pakistan met the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Bradford in London on Wednesday, amid rising fears for the safety of churchgoers in the North-West Frontier Province, after a fresh death-threat was received by a church school last week.
The High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said after the meeting that he would immediately discuss increasing security for Christians during the run-up to Christmas with the interior minister of Pakistan and the government of the province.
“We will take every means possible to protect the Christian community, and arrest the people who are responsible for these threats,” he said.
The government would take “extraordinary” measures to ensure that Christmas passed peacefully for Christians, he said. The new ruling party’s aim was to return to the founding vision of Pakistan as a place where faith and politics were separate, and all faiths lived in peaceful co-operation. He said that last week the government had announced that an extra five per cent of all government posts would be reserved for Christians.
He also said that he intended to meet the Bishop of Bradford, Dr David James, and leaders of the Pakistani community in Bradford to help consolidate the improvements in community relations. His government had been in power for nine months, and was trying to clear up years of “stupendous mess”.
Last Friday, the Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Manowar Rumalshah, met the Archbishop of Canterbury to brief him on the earlier violence against the Christian community (News, 5 December). The most recent threat was delivered to the Church of Pakistan’s Elizabeth School and College last Saturday. A letter accused the school of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity: “We will shed the blood of those Christians who persuade Muslims.”
The school authorities were quick to say that none of its institutions permitted any attempt to convert Muslims.
The letter continued: “The purpose of our organisation is to wage holy war against infidels. Such programmes occur in your college. This time you have called Muslims on your Christmas Eid through a programme and remember we will blow up your college.”
It said that the Americans were happy when Muslims were killed: “Recently in India some Christians and Jews have been killed and that has alarmed America.”
The Revd Dr David Gosling, the Principal of Edwardes College, at the University of Peshawar, who has seen the letter, said it contained a threat of violence to “other institutions along with yours”. This presumably included his college, he said. “The death threats are linked to the military activities of the USA and Britain, and make specific reference to the Mumbai bombings.”