Wednesday, April 29, 2009

002. Pakistan: Islamabad Church on the threshold of war

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 002 | Wed 29 Apr 2009

PAKISTAN: ISLAMABAD CHURCH ON THE THRESHOLD OF WAR
By Elizabeth Kendal

-- 'land-for-peace' brings Islamabad into al-Qaeda-Taliban's sights.
-- a special prayer bulletin for extraordinary times.

The Margala Hills are all that lie between al-Qaeda-Taliban jihadists and their goal: nuclear-armed Islamabad. While most popular media reports give the impression that this crisis has only recently emerged, this is far from the case. The reality must be absorbed and lessons must be learned.

In 2003, as part of their 'War on Terror' alliance, America and Pakistan agreed that the Pakistani Army be given the job of eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However, a high death toll -- including the loss of possibly 3000 soldiers -- weakened both Army moral and public resolve, creating domestic political problems for then-president General Musharraf.

In pursuit of political gain, Musharraf brokered 'land-for-peace' deals with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. In February 2005 South Waziristan was ceded, followed by North Waziristan in September 2006. With this 'peace', the military withdrew and jihadists were released from prison with compensation on a mere pledge not to engage in terrorism. If there were a turning point in the 'War on Terror', this unconditional surrender of Waziristan was surely it, for the power of the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance has grown in both Afghanistan and Pakistan ever since.

The jihadists were never going to be pacified so long as their goal -- the total Islamisation and Talibanisation of fortress Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan -- remained unchanged and unrealised. The 'Islamic Republic of Waziristan' simply became a terrorist sanctuary and launching pad for further advances. Within months several more tribal areas had fallen under Taliban control. ('Land-for-peace' deals with agenda-driven fundamentalist Islamists and jihadists secure incremental Islamist advance, not peace.)

In July 2007 the government's assault on the Islamists of the Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque in the centre of Islamabad) left some 100 Islamists dead. (The Islamists say thousands died, including children.) Consequently in September 2007 Al-Qaeda declared jihad against the government of Pakistan and the war was on in earnest. This war pits a determined al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance (with numerous high-level sympathisers) against an unstable and equivocating Pakistani government and a conflicted and divided Pakistani Army plagued by Pashtun and Sunni defections.

In the 18 months since, the jihadists have held or captured all the tribal areas. In February 2009 President Asif Ali Zardari brokered a 'sharia-for-peace' deal with the Taliban in Malakand Division which comprises one third of NWFP and includes the glorious, albeit Taliban-held, Swat Valley. All of NWFP is now either ceded to the Taliban or under some degree of Taliban control or influence.

Emboldened by its Malakand victory and its advances in strategic Peshawar, the Taliban launched its Spring Offensive with a further escalation. In early April a more united Taliban (see RLP 518, 23 Feb 2009) surged with little resistance south east from Swat towards Islamabad, infiltrating Buner District (covered by the February 'peace' accord ) in a 'blitzkreig'. From there, they immediately entered Haripur District which borders the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. According to most Western and Indian analysis and intelligence, Pakistan's fall is inevitable and imminent, although according to Pakistan, this assessment is 'ridiculous'.

The Church in Pakistan's NWFP is already suffering severe repression and persecution under Taliban tyranny. Christians there are living in fear and paying jizya, the'tax' or protection money demanded of subjugated Jews and Christians in the Quran (Sura 9:29). Their lives are always in the balance. The Church in Islamabad stands on the brink of the same fate. If the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance manages to capture Islamabad in the months ahead, the world will instantly become a different place, and the Church in Islamabad and across Pakistan will see suffering and persecution unlike anything it has ever known before.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the Spirit of God will move powerfully in the churches of Pakistan, so there may not be a crisis of faith amidst the crisis of security; may grace and light radiate into Pakistan's darkness from every church and individual believer, for the glory of God.

* God our Almighty Father will powerfully and supernaturally protect, deliver, sustain and preserve his church in Pakistan so life might come to Pakistan by his power and grace through the testimony of the Church. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

'. . .strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered. . .' (Romans 15:30 ESV)

* Christ will set captives free, open the eyes of the blind (Luke 4:18), and reveal himself to those who are seeking truth, righteousness and a new way (Isaiah 55:6,7) as well as to those who are not (Isaiah 65:1); may blessing arise out of this crisis.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHURCH IN PAKISTAN UNDER THREAT OF WAR

Ever since February 2005 the government of Pakistan has been pursuing political gain by brokering 'land-for-peace' deals with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. Each such deal has secured incremental al-Qaeda-Taliban advance, not peace. With each territorial gain, the terrorists -- whose goal of total control is yet to be realised -- have expanded their sanctuary. All of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is now either ceded to the Taliban or under various degrees of Taliban control or influence. Christians there are suffering severe repression and persecution. In early April the al-Qaeda-Taliban Spring Offensive brought the jihadists to within 100km of Islamabad. This serious threat to Pakistan, to the world, and most immediately to the Pakistani Church is very real. Please pray.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

001. Iran: imprisoned Christians women in peril

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 001 | Wed 22 Apr 2009

IRAN: IMPRISONED CHRISTIAN WOMEN IN PERIL

Maryam Rostampour (27) and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad (30) share an apartment and are active members of Iran's Christian community. On 5 March one of the women attended a summons at the Ministry of Intelligence. Officers then took her back to her apartment, arrested both women and confiscated their computers, books, Bibles and other personal items. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), the women were taken handcuffed to Police and Security Station 137 in Gaysha, west of Tehran. On 18 March, after appearing before Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court, Maryam and Marzieh were imprisoned without charge in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, accused of 'acting against state security' and 'taking part in illegal gatherings'. Bail was set at $US400,000. Whilst the families of the women have offered the authorities the title deeds of their homes as surety, the judge has not yet approved this.

According to Compass Direct, Maryam and Marzieh are sharing an overcrowded cell with 27 other women. When Marzieh spoke by phone to her family on 28 March, she said that both women are suffering from infection and high fever and have not received adequate medical attention. According to ICC, Marzieh told her family, 'I am dying.' On 14 April Amnesty International (AI) issued an Urgent Action appeal on behalf of the two women (UA 95-09 Iran). AI is deeply concerned that the women -- whom they note have been imprisoned without charge and are most probably prisoners of conscience imprisoned for their Christian faith and witness alone -- are not receiving adequate medical attention or due process.

There is a very real possibility that persecution of the Church will continue to escalate in Iran in line with its aspirations for Shi'ite ascendancy and the regime's desire for leadership of the Muslim world. Both aims are being pursued and advanced through dangerous anti-Semitism and defiance of the West, which includes an overt, hardline, Islamic rejection of Western-style religious liberty. Meanwhile, Iran has a negative birth rate, widespread poverty and endemic prostitution, drug addiction and suicide emanating from disillusionment and despair. Iranians need liberty; they need the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On 15 April Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech in Kerman, Iran, in which he mocked US President Barack Obama's offer of an 'outstretched hand': 'We say to you that you yourselves know that you are today in a position of weakness. Your hands are empty, and you can no longer promote your affairs from a position of strength. (MEMRI)' Indeed, America is in great need of co-operation from Iran and neighbouring countries to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan now that the main NATO supply-line from Peshawar (north west Pakistan) to Kabul via the Khyber Pass has been strangled by al-Qaeda-Taliban activity. At a worldly level, religious liberty advocacy for Iran is hopeless. However, 'nothing will be impossible with God' (Luke 1:37 ESV) so let us come into the courts of the Lord with confidence and faith.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* bless Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Esmaeilabad with healing, comfort and radiant peace; may their testimony and their time in Evin Prison be blessed and used by the Holy Spirit.

* intervene to restrain any hands that would beat or torture Maryam or Marzieh; may the God of justice see that justice is delivered. 'For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.' (Isaiah 30:18 ESV)

* liberate the Iranian people from the shackles and blindness of Islam so they might discover the joy and peace that comes from grace, and the liberty that comes with the Holy Spirit. May the truth that sets people free (John 8:32) infiltrate Iran at every level.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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IMPRISONED CHRISTIAN WOMEN IN PERIL IN IRAN

Maryam Rostampour (27) and Marzieh Esmaeilabad (30) are active members of Iran's Christian community. After being arrested by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence on 5 March, they faced a hearing in a Revolutionary Court on 18 March. Accused of 'acting against state security' and 'taking part in illegal gatherings', they were then imprisoned without charge in the notorious Evin Prison, sharing an overcrowded cell with 27 other women. They are both very ill and are not receiving adequate medical attention. Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action appeal on their behalf (AI UA 95-90 Iran). With its stance on the world's stage, advocacy for Iran seems hopeless, but we can enter the courts of the Lord -- and 'nothing will be impossible with God' (Luke 1:37 ESV).