It has been nearly two months since the last confirmed drone attack by the US killed 12 suspected militants in South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan. In the relatively quiet interim, life for Christians in the north – particularly in Peshawar diocese – has normalized somewhat with a resumption of visitations by Church workers during the holiday season. Moreover, local media reports say that drone attacks last year have dropped more than 50 percent over attacks in 2010. As part of a team from Peshawar, I have been traveling around the mountainous region of the Northern Province for several years to minister to youth groups by organizing activities and providing counseling. In this time, the only areas accessible to us were North and South Waziristan, which are Federally Administered Tribal Areas largely under the control of the Taliban. Pakistani authorities have long restricted the movements of pastors and other outsiders in these areas, which have no parishes and are prone to attacks by US drones and suicide bombers. Despite the remoteness of the northern territories and the challenges facing minority Christians living there, faith continues to thrive. One courageous pastor has been using his extensive contacts to seek Taliban escorts to facilitate pastoral work in Parachinar, which borders the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan. “[The Taliban] often inquire about the purpose of my travel. I simply reply that I am a pastor of Christians and will lead a service in the Church. Sometimes this ends with a cup of tea,” the priest told me. He added that the Taliban only seem to target Muslims of the Shia sect and that some of them don’t know anything about Christianity. During Christmas, St John Vianney Church in Peshawar held a holiday fair – the first such public celebration in six years. “Thousands used to attend such events … but security forces stopped these huge gatherings [for many years]. We decided to celebrate with a big gathering this year only after police gave us permission,” said a local catechist. Many Christians in the northern region have awaited an end to drone attacks that they say have made it more difficult to practise their faith. Drone attacks last year killed 370 and injured 50 more, according to local media reports. Ten Christians were also killed by suicide bombers in Taliban-controlled cities. Some Church leaders have called on Pakistani authorities to pull out of the so-called “war on terror,” particularly because of the heavy toll in collateral damage. Christians in Lahore and Karachi joined nationwide protests last month following a NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. If peace requires struggling for a permanent end to aerial pounding by unmanned aircraft, then so be it. If it requires secret talks between Pakistani security forces and local Taliban, then the military should try to reach a decisive peace accord. 'Northstar' is a pseudonym used by a Christian commentator in Peshawar.
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