Churches across Pakistan have stepped up security in response to threats of attacks following the Taliban’s return to power in neighboring Afghanistan.
At a meeting of Catholic and Protestant leaders, senior clergy agreed to tighten surveillance and beef up armed protection, especially at Sunday services.
Aid to the Church in Need (ANC) reported that the move comes amid concerns that the Taliban’s take-over of Afghanistan will trigger extremist incidents aimed at Christian and other minority faith communities.
Pakistan human rights activist Sajid Christopher, chief executive of the Human Friends Organization, said there were fears raised that the Taliban-associated group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant organizations in Pakistan would capitalize on events in Afghanistan and target religious minorities including Christians.
“When the Taliban were in power before, there were a lot of terrorist attacks in Pakistan,” he told ACN in an interview.
“There were terrorist organizations attacking churches and other Christian institutes. They clearly became targets. Now that the Taliban are back, it will strengthen the TTP and other Islamist groups and so there could be attacks,” said Christopher.
The ACN report said tightened protection measures include increased action to check the identity of people entering church compounds by car, metal detectors used as people go in for services, and a beefed-up armed presence at church entrances.
Christopher warned that the security outlook for more moderate Muslims was also of concern.
“Among peaceful and progressive [Muslim] communities there will also be fear but those with a militant mind-set are happy that the Taliban are back in power again,” he said.
In Afghanistan Taliban fighters have reportedly gone house-to-house to track down Christians and other minorities and there were reports of people being ordered to hand over their phones with the threat of being killed on the spot if their devices were found to contain Bible verses or devotional material.
Former US international religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback warned of genocide against Christians and other minorities in Afghanistan.
“It’s a deadly and catastrophic situation and could easily lead to genocide,” he was quoted as saying by the ACN report.