(Photo: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)
Christians in Pakistan are responding to the persecution attacks they often endure by demanding their own province within the South Asian country – although some have questioned the likelihood of such a request being granted by the government.
"I don't have much hope that such a request would be granted," Faith McDonnell, the director of Religious Liberty Programs at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), shared in an email with The Christian Post on Friday.
"First, I don't think that all of the Christians of Pakistan want this. Second, I think that Islamists do not want Christians to have ANY safe place or any autonomy. They believe that Pakistan is part of the Islamic world, in fact, that all the world should be under Islam. Third, I think that this would be very problematic for the Government of Pakistan," McDonnell continued.
The IRD program director added that she believes a better answer would be for the Pakistani government to crack down on terrorists and Islamic mobs, so that the law of the country reflects the desire of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, who wanted all people to have freedom of religion.
The request by some Pakistani Christians for their own separate province comes from Younus Masih Bhatti, president of the Pakistan United Christian Welfare Association.
"So, keeping in view the two million Christians in the country and a sense of insecurity among them, there is a requirement for a separate province for them so that they can enjoy equal rights like the majority," Bhatti was quoted as saying by the Telegraph.
The international community was recently reminded of Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws with the imprisonment of Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Christian Pakistani girl. The girl, believed to have mental disabilities, allegedly burned pages from a book containing Islamic scripture, which is a crime in Pakistan. Rimsha is still currently in prison after a court extended her detention to another 15 days, and it is not clear what will happen to her.
"If you burn me, I will forgive you, but if you burn our (Quran), then I will fight a legal battle to seek maximum punishment for anyone doing this act," said Rao Abdur Raheem, a lawyer seeking charges against the young girl.
A host of organizations have since spoken out in defense of Rimsha and on the plight of Pakistani's Christians, who make up only four percent of the population of almost 180 million, and are often targeted for their beliefs in the largely Muslim nation.
The World Council of Churches has scheduled an international conference for September in Geneva where its members hope to raise global awareness about the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan, including the controversial blasphemy law which seeks to punish any instances of projected offense against Islam.
The IRD is also supporting the initiative to raise awareness and help Pakistan's Christians, but McDonnell told CP that even if the government were to create a separate province for followers of Christ, the danger of Islamic terrorism would persist.
"I think that the fact that Christians desire a separate province is an indication of how desperate they are, and how bad things really are for Christians in Pakistan," McDonnell suggested.
"In the best case scenario, I could see a separate province being helpful to Christians because they would not be considered second-class citizens (dhimmi), as they are in the rest of Pakistan. I would hope that it could reduce the attacks on them. But on the other hand, unless the Christians were prepared to defend themselves and their security, it could be a dangerous situation because of the Islamist groups that don't want any Christians in Pakistan."