Another Dire Warning of Pakistan’s Instability: the Peshawar Church Bombing

It has been another miserable week in the history of Pakistan. At least 328 people have been killed in an earthquake in the province of Balochistan, just days after a suicide bomb attack led to 85 fatalities at a Christian church in Peshawar.

Carnage at a church which had stood peacefully since 1883
Carnage at a church which had stood peacefully since 1883

Whilst the earthquakes, landslides and floods that have plagued Pakistan in the past few years are an unfortunate consequence of natural forces, the mass violence that is perpetuated in every Pakistani province on a weekly basis is a testament to the uncontrolled forces of destruction that reside in the country.

The bombing of the Christian church was particularly unsavoury and worryingly a possible sign of things to come. Christians make up almost 2% of Pakistan’s population, a sizable minority, and believers show a devotion to their faith uncommon in many nominally Christian countries.

The relative infancy of Pakistani Christianity inspires enthusiastic devotion
The relative infancy of Pakistani Christianity inspires enthusiastic devotion

This might be attributed to the fact that Christianity in Pakistan is relatively young. It arrived with colonists when Pakistan was part of the British Raj. Unlike with China and Japan, which had been visited by prominent Jesuit missionaries from Italy, Portugal and Spain as early as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and have long since reneged their Christian association, Christianity in Pakistan is vibrant and equally split between Catholic and Protestant denominations.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar atrocity. This is unsurprising given the barbaric and repressive interpretation of Islam practiced by its members. Yet what is so astonishing is that leading Taliban operatives are currently being freed from Pakistani jails by the Islamabad government.

There is an argument, supported by some quarters in the US, that the release of Taliban ‘officials’ is a necessary precursor to securing peace talks in Afghanistan. Yet others have argued that convicted terrorists are being released straight back to their former cells where they can once more carry out atrocities such as the Peshawar bombing.

Violent deaths, generally through terrorist bombings, are commonplace in Pakistan and are not exclusively reserved for attacks against non-Muslims. The amount of sectarian and factional violence that occurs in the country is astonishing.

Having said that, despite frequent reports of atrocities, there appears to be a genuine malaise towards Pakistan by the rest of the world. The Peshawar church bombing, whilst causing initial outrage, has quickly been forgotten by the Western media. A similar scenario exists with Iraq where terrorism and bloodshed are so frequent that they are no longer newsworthy.

Iraqi car bombings are so frequent that they usually receive little extraordinary attention abroad
Iraqi car bombings are so frequent that they usually receive little extraordinary attention abroad

Whilst Iraq is acknowledged as a failed state, Pakistan does not seem to fall into that category. Despite harbouring Osama Bin Laden – probably with the help of the security forces -, providing a base from which the Taliban can operate into Afghanistan, and being home to a raft of terrorist cells, the instability of Pakistan is severely downplayed by the West.

There is a delusion amongst policymakers that Pakistani internal affairs must be left alone if terrorism is to be defeated in the region and peace is to come to Afghanistan. Yet America is happy enough to conduct frequent drone attacks against the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan, eliminating Al-Qaeda operatives whilst simultaneously slaughtering innocent civilians. One could not ask for a more obvious interference with national sovereignty.

It is concerning that a country of such violent instability is commonly seen as a key diplomatic player in solving the region’s problems, particularly terrorism. A weak government is just as dangerous as a fanatical one. But events like the Peshawar bombing continually happen without a suggestion of a solution from foreign powers, often so quick to intervene in other states or pressurise indigenous governments.

Ignoring these all-too-frequent warnings is not a wise policy and the relatively youthful history of Christianity in Pakistan may all too soon be wiped out.

Advertisements

Behind Closed Doors: Bo Xilai sentencing a far cry from China’s past

One of the biggest political scandals in recent memory has just concluded in China with the sentencing to life imprisonment of Bo Xilai, a former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) favourite, on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

Former Chongqing boss Bo was once tipped for the highest office
Former Chongqing boss Bo was once tipped for the highest office

Bo’s trial and subsequent sentencing emphasise the modern CCP’s desire to minimise publicity of so-called ‘state enemies’, a monumental change from the days of public denunciations and show trials under Mao Tse-Tung.

Mao revelled in the public condemnation of his perceived enemies, maximising any opportunity to humiliate any official unfortunate enough to incur his wrath. With the willing help of his Red Guards, Mao used public trials and sentencing to instill fear in potential ‘traitors’, discouraging even his most courageous opponents from concocting schemes to replace him.

Two of the most important figures in communist China were subjected to Mao’s brutal treatment. Peng Dehuai, a former Defence Minister and decorated party veteran, was made to suffer years of torture in private and horrific vilification in public. With placards of hate-filled accusation hung around his neck, he was paraded by fanatical youths outside the Forbidden City, with government-sanctioned newspapers eagerly reporting each denouncement of his traitorous ways.

Mao had no moral qualms about publicly purging Peng, a hero of the revolution
Mao had no moral qualms about publicly purging Peng, a hero of the revolution

Likewise Liu Shaoqi, Mao’s number two for over a decade, was arrested and publicly paraded, denounced and beaten by Red Guard goons for being a ‘capitalist-roader’, a vague term concocted by Mao as a convenient way to undermine his enemies’ legitimacy. Liu’s wife suffered similar punishment and Mao was careful in his instructions that the two should be kept alive as long as possible for maximum punishment.

Peng and Liu were guilty of little more than challenging Mao’s insane economic and social policies, which had led China to the brink of collapse, with millions of its citizens starving to death.

Liu was viciously denounced in propaganda posters at the time (Source: Chineseposters.net)
Liu was viciously denounced in propaganda posters at the time (Source: Chineseposters.net)

Bo Xilai, whose own aspirations for party leadership were probably greater than those conceived by Peng and Liu, will be glad his downfall did not come during the dark days of Mao’s rule. Rather, for a case as high-profile as his, the circumstances of his purging remain largely unknown.

Media outlets were only allowed to print Xinhua-sanctioned reports on Bo’s trial and sentencing, just as they were when his wife, Gu Kailai, went on trial for the murder of Briton Neil Heywood last year.

Despite a feigned ideological commitment to communism and a purported reverence for past party leader’s, today’s CCP hierarchy does not want to associate itself with the actions of its predecessors, particularly those of the Maoist era.

By keeping a lid on the details of Bo’s case, and releasing carefully-manipulated reports to the press, the Chinese government hopes to diffuse the tension surrounding the scandal, divert attention away from the corruption-plagued political system and yet at the same time send a message that opposition to the Politburo will not be tolerated.

Although not nearly as crude and barbaric as Mao’s tactics, the CCPs skillful end handling of the Bo Xilai affair will dissuade would-be-usurpers from engaging in the sort of political intrigue that can overthrow a system.