Images: Reuters & Canva

By Isolde Doubell

On Saturday, 16 March, a vehicle packed with explosives rammed into a military base in the Pakistani town of Mir Ali in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan. The attackers killed at least seven soldiers and destroyed some of the buildings of the military post. Troops responded, killing six of the attackers. A newly formed militant group, Jaish-e-Fursan-e-Muhammad, composed mostly of Pakistani Taliban members, claimed responsibility for the attack. The Foreign Office in Islamabad also confirmed that anti-terrorist activities were carried out by Pakistani jets on Monday, 18 March, by targeting suspected hideouts of the Pakistani Taliban within Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban has denied that they allow their territory to be used by militants and claimed five women and three children were killed in the strike.

These border skirmishes led to almost 1000 deaths in the province in 2023 and put added pressure on Pakistan’s already strained relationship with Afghanistan. Pakistan built a fence along its border with Afghanistan in 2017 to combat the movement of suspected militants through the border. While it seems this was a somewhat successful effort, it also further isolated Afghan Christians, who often moved across the previously fluid border. Many Afghans have received access to the Gospel by moving to Pakistan.

Adding to Pakistan’s array of challenges is the unrest surrounding newly elected Prime Minister Shebbaz Sharif. Mr Sharif has been in power since 4 March after contested elections were held in February. There have been widespread accusations that the elections were rigged. Mr Sharif served a previous term as prime minister following a vote of no confidence in the former prime minister, Imran Khan, in 2022. Since no single party won an outright majority in February, Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party formed a coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party and seven other smaller parties to force Imram Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party out of power. Despite a severe crackdown, the PTI won several seats in the election, but not enough for a majority.

Analysts agree that the new coalition government will have an uphill battle. The PTI still has considerable support, and the coalition parties are ideologically opposed on key issues. A major obstacle will be the high inflation rate and the ensuing economic challenges involved.

An INcontext partner in Pakistan says the economy is currently most peoples’ concern. “The situation is really quite bleak – even the middle classes are finding it difficult to stay afloat with the rapid rise of living costs, so the lower classes are truly struggling to feed their families.  A secondary effect is a rise in petty crime, and for nominal Christians, there will be far more temptation to compromise ethics in order to get any extra income.”

Apart from political and economic challenges for Christians in Pakistan, the loose interpretation of blasphemy laws poses a particularly difficult situation. Roughly a quarter of all blasphemy accusations target Christians. According to Open Doors, there are 4.2 million Christians in Pakistan – which is only 1.8% of the country’s population of about 231 million. In August last year, two Christians in Jaranwala were accused of tearing pages out of the Qur’an. Thousands of armed Muslims set fire to 23 churches and looted and destroyed more than 300 Christian homes in response.

To be able to handle all these challenges in their country, Christians need a strong, healthy, Christ-focused church where they can be a family, trust one another, and be strong in the Lord. However, according to a friend of INcontext, the Pakistan Church is not in a good state. It has been severely impacted as missionaries were forced to leave abruptly in recent years. Leadership in the church has not been developed and a lack of trust in the local converts left the national Church leadership feeling ill-equipped amidst all the challenges they are facing. Despite these concerns, our friend testifies of remarkable growth within the Church, specifically within Hindu communities. The global Christian community can come alongside Pakistani believers in prayer for the future of the Pakistani Church.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • That the newly elected government will have wisdom as they handle the country’s many crises
  • That Christian leaders will be raised up to be godly shepherds for the Church
  • For believers to grow in their faith, to be able to stand strong amidst the persecution they face and that they will be able to truly trust in God as their provider