07/14/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Despite threats from the Taliban, we are working for the good of the country, Pakistani Catholic say

Religious minorities, including the Christian community, are victims of a campaign of intimidation. Fundamentalists want to force conversion and extort money. The executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church highlights its commitment to the population and to the topmost principle of the “separation of state and religion.”
Lahore (AsiaNews) – “In the past we received many threatening letters and phone calls, but so far nothing bad has happened,” Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, said to AsiaNews. However, the activist did confirm that “the situation was delicate and tensions are visible.” Never the less, he insisted that “we shall continue our work for the good of the country and its people.”

In the past few weeks, the Taliban have threatened leaders of Pakistan’s religious minorities as well as volunteers from NGOs involved in helping refugees from the Swat Valley.

The Christian community has also become a target for fundamentalists who demand conversion to Islam and the payment of money. “Anyone who does not obey orders will be killed,” the Taliban said.

According to Peter Jacob, threats of abductions “are meant to extort money”.  The “overall situation is troubling,” but not bad enough “to prevent us from doing our work.”

Without a doubt “the organisations involved in helping refugees” from the Swat Valley and the Malakand Division are playing an important role by providing food, water and basic items.

“For the three million refugees the slow trek home has begun,” the Catholic activist said.

“The military now control most of the territory. Led by the government they have made a giant effort to uproot extremism. But much remains to be done for peace in the country.”

For the NJCP executive secretary, Pakistan “is going through a phase of transition in its process of democratisation”. He is certain that the government will be able to “settle the conflict and improve security.”

“All political forces in the country” must make their contribution in order to achieve this objective. Minorities, including the Christian community, are called to “make their presence felt and claim their rights,” increasing their visibility and becoming “an element of strength”.

“We must eradicate religious fundamentalism and encourage a process of reconciliation,” he said. “Christians and Muslims must work towards a common goal. This is the commitment we have made as members of the NCJP,” and this despite threats and attacks from radicals.

For Peter Jacob there is indeed “a margin of hope” in the future. “The situation is difficult but everyone in Pakistan must face the problems it entails, problems like poverty (30 per cent of the population below subsistence level); illiteracy, which touches 48 per cent of the population; and rising inflation.”

“For this reason it is even more important that religion become a factor of unity,” Peter Jacob said. “This is our request, goal and the basis of our work.”

It is inextricably linked to the topmost principle of the “separation of state and religion”. Anything connected with “religious fundamentalism” must be eliminated because “we want a better future for Pakistan.”

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