By BosNewsLife Asia Service
SARGODHA, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Fighters linked to the militant Taliban group have threatened to kill Christians and burn their homes in Pakistan’s Punjab province if they don’t meet their demands.
In a letter sent to the Christian community in the northeastern city of Sargodha, Taliban militants said Christians should convert to Islam, pay an Islamic tax imposed on religious minorities, known as ‘Jizya tax’, or leave the country.
If Christians refuse to accept these choices, Christians “will be killed, their property and homes will be burnt to ashes and their women treated as sex slaves,” said the letter, which was distributed to BosNewsLife and other media by rights group International Christian Concern (ICC). The Christians “themselves would be responsible for this,” the letter added.
News of the statement emerged as Pakistan’s army prepared for a ground offensive elsewhere in Pakistan, in South Waziristan, following a string of brazen attacks, believed to be part of a Taliban campaign, that killed more than 150 people in the last two weeks.
Christians have been in the cross-fire or directly targeted by Islamic militants with links to the Taliban and al-Qaida. Militants have accused them of representing an evil Western religion and of supporting the U.S.-led war on terror.
It was not immediately clear which faction within the Taliban sent the threatening letter, but local Christian leaders apparently took the statement seriously.
Reverend Zaheer Khan, pastor of Maghoo Memorial Church, Reverend Aamir Azeem, pastor of United Christians Church and Reverend Zafar Akhter, pastor of United Presbyterian Church apparently each received a copy of threatening letter.
Other Christian institutions reportedly included St Peter’s Middle School, the Sargodha Institute of Technology, Sargodha Catholic High School, St John’s Primary School and Fatima Hospital.
Besides these Christian institutions, the letter was also sent to a key center of Shiite Muslims, the Immam-Bar-Gha, ICC said. Shiites are a minority Muslim group in Pakistan where the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.
ICC representative Jonathan Racho told BosNewsLife in a statement that “Christians in Pakistan are soft targets for attacks by Islamic extremists. Over the past four months alone, 12 Christians have been killed by Muslims due to their faith.”
Racho said ICC has been “alarmed by the increase in attacks against Christians in Pakistan. We urge Pakistani officials to take the threatening letters seriously and take measures to protect the Christians and their institutions from attacks.”
ICC said it had urged Christians around the world to contact Pakistani embassies in their countries and express concern about the situation. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).