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Pakistan: Christians fear introduction of Sharia law in Swat Valley

 Pakistani Christians have expressed their alarm at the introduction of Sharia law in the Swat Valley, with the signing of a decree by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, after a favorable vote from the National Parliament.

The Pakistani Taliban groups of the Swat Valley (in the northwestern province, on the border with Afghanistan) have claimed victory for the accord that calls for the establishment of Islamic law in the area, in exchange for an end to the hostilities that have marked the territory for two years now.

The Christian Churches in Pakistan have expressed their disagreement and dissatisfaction with the President's decision, which they say will lead to an intensification of Islamic extremism in the Swat Valley, and will endanger the religious minorities.

Many Christian families, who are already living amidst a climate of fear and intimidation, will be forced to flee their homes. Even moderate Islamic groups have expressed their concern, and fear a progressive 'talibanization' of the country.

The territory is under the control of Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the local Taliban group who have established control throughout the territory in the public offices, the media, transportation, and shopping centres. The militia has been working for some time to eradicate the presence of the Pakistani Army in the area and after months of fighting, the Army has retreated, leaving the territory in the hands of the Taliban.

The new law has already had a heavy influence on lawyers' groups and non-governmental organizations, as well as social groups and non-Muslim schools.

More than 170 non-Islamic schools have been attacked and destroyed in two years and over 400 schools and girls' academies have been forced to close their doors as a result of threats and intimidation. Among these are many Catholic and Christian schools, with a mainly Muslim student body.

The campaign to place restrictions on education, which mainly effects private girls' schools, has been successfully led by the Pakistani Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province.

Many also fear that the Taliban will establish a parallel judicial system in the country. The Swat District, nearly 150 km northeast of Peshawar, with a population of 1.8 million people, was once an area that was often-visited, even by tourists, and was home to various religious communities.

In recent years, it has become a battlefield between the Pakistani Army and Islamic fundamentalist groups that, following the retreat of the military, took over the area. Acts of intimidation, threats, physical and verbal aggression all continue, as the Pakistani Taliban groups continue to terrorize the non-Muslim population, imposing conversion to Islam and forcing minorities to flee. Christians form 2.5% of the population in Pakistan.

Source: Fides

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