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Church in a changing political climate

In times of uncertainty it is unwise to place all your eggs in the basket of a single party

Church in a changing political climate
Arch Angel, Karachi

February 16, 2012

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The latest edition of a diocesan Catholic bi-monthly carried an interesting note in its editorial.“The regimes of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz PML-N [the ruling party of Punjab province] have always brought depression and torture to Christians. Minorities are concerned about the protection of their lives and property in the future,” it stated, counting seven church attacks from 1986 to January 10 this year.The editor clearly referred to possible elections later this year. Last Monday’s indictment of prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on contempt charges for ignoring a court order to ask the Swiss government to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari heralds elections within months. However, hopes for real change fade when you look at the history of elections in Pakistan, which are mostly controversial for a number of reasons. These include the influence of the security apparatus, external interference; the ineffectiveness of the Election Commission; the buying and selling of votes; illegal bans on women voting; as well as religious, gender and ethnic biases. This has prompted several Christian human rights bodies to organize awareness seminars for a credible electoral process. The political climate has become decidedly hotter in recent months with the country sinking deeper into double digit inflation; anger at US drone attacks rising; an ongoing energy crisis; an insurgency in the northern tribal belt; and targeted killings in the south. The political demise of the premier will further plunge the country into instability and topple the government led by an unpopular president. “Things were quiet better under the last government. The former president knew how to handle both the Taliban and fundamentalist clerics. He was the only one who could denationalize Church educational institutions,” one priest said, referring to Pervez Musharraf who has been in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai for more than three years. I noted similar thoughts from leaders of several denominations. Their hopes however were diminished last month after Musharraf delayed a planned homecoming after he received repeated threats of arrest if he did so. The cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is presently the strongest candidate likely to be running in the highly anticipated elections. Quite a few Christian youths recently attended huge rallies he held in Lahore and Karachi. However his words at his Christmas rally alarmed many Church leaders. “He vowed to make Pakistan an Islamic state. Like all other politicians and leaders, he too is bringing religion into politics,” said Capuchin Father Abid Habib, former president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan, in a letter to the media last month. “He did not wish anyone a Merry Christmas. Nor did he have anything to say about non-Muslim Pakistanis. A non-Muslim like me will fear that he too, will follow other politicians who have done a lot of damage to the country through the misuse of religion,” the priest wrote. Religious hardliners openly claim that Khan represents them through his policy of supporting the Taliban, Jihadi (Islamic militant) elements, and condemning US drone attacks. I heard from a close acquaintance that a Catholic bishop has rejected a proposal by Khan’s party to nominate a Christian to represent minorities. Alienating minorities from mainstream politics will do no good. The Church has to encourage lay leaders from all factions and groups. It has to muster all the support it can to uplift and protect the rights of those who are discriminated against. It is not possible for us to take any one side. In a recent Facebook poll by a Christian think tank, an overwhelming majority agreed that their representation in assemblies is insufficient and consequently ineffective. They also agreed to adopt a two pronged approach of joining both main stream and Christian political parties. My vote goes to them.   Arch Angel is pseudo name of a Catholic Commentator based in Karachi  
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