Amid recent violence against Christians in Pakistan, a leading bishop says that the attacks are deeply rooted in the political situation of the country and how it relates to both the West and surrounding areas.
Bishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi interprets the terrorist bombing in late September of a Christian church in Peshawar which killed nearly 100 people as a retaliative move against the U.S. military.
The group that claimed responsibility for the attack, he said, stated that it was done because “the Americans are using Drone attacks,” and “unless the Americans stop the Drone attacks” they “will continue to attack more churches.”
“This threat is not coming from just any group,” the bishop told CNA in an Oct. 11 interview. “It’s coming from a very powerful extremist group that has already been causing problems and is causing problems to our government.”
The group has also attacked both military bases as well as the police, he said, and is “strong enough to challenge the government. They are a threat to the whole of society, not just the Christians.”
Bishop Coutts explained that the number of Christians in the country, including both Catholics and Protestants, total about “2.5 percent of the population,” and that being an Islamic country, roughly “95-96 percent” of the population is Muslim, with the rest being composed of other religious minorities.
“According to our constitution we have religious freedom,” he said “and if you come to Pakistan you will see many churches.” However, “in recent years we have been facing and experiencing intolerance to such an extent that it has reached the point we are being attacked.”
“There are a number of factors that have contributed to this,” he stated, stressing that the first is the ongoing war in Pakistan’s neighboring country Afghanistan, which is a “one-hundred percent Muslim country.”
“First was the fight against the Soviet Union with the United States, and Saudi Arabia helped our government, and then the Taliban developed to fight against the Soviets,” the bishop recalled, “But now what is happening is we have our own brand of Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban.”
Bishop Coutts revealed that in previous years Pakistan identified the Taliban only with those who fought within Afghanistan for the freedom of the country, but that now a “Pakistani Taliban” has developed who “want to make Pakistan a purely Islamic state.”
The bishop emphasized that although the country is primarily Muslim, it is “at the moment a democratic country” with a newly elected government, and that “extremist Islamic groups who are not the majority at all.”
However, he stressed that although the radical groups are a small minority, they “are very strong because of the methods they use.”
“They use the methods of violence and even suicide bombing,” which is, he noted “a new phenomenon in Pakistan. They do not believe in democracy. They want an Islamic state. They want all Islamic laws.”
“So that is the basic struggle at the moment, the background to understand how a small minority like the Christians or the Hindus are suffering within that overall new form of Islam, a militant, violent form of Islam promoting Jihad or Holy War.”
Referring to the Peshawar attack, the bishop urged that the situation “is dangerous” because “there is a perception here that the whole west, Europe or America are all Christians.”
In other words, they believe that “Christians are attacking the Muslim countries. Iraq, now Afghanistan. And so you are Pakistani Christians. We are not immigrants.”
“The perception is that if they attack the Christians, Americans will stop the drone attacks. It’s not just a local problem. It has drawn us into global politics. It is something much wider.”