Churches across Pakistan have stepped up security in response to the threat of terrorist attacks following the Taliban's return to power in neighboring Afghanistan.
After the Taliban takeover, senior Catholic and Protestant leaders agreed to tighten surveillance and heighten armed protection, especially at Sunday services, Aid to the Church in Need, UK (ACN) reports.
The move coincides with concerns that the Taliban's seizure of Afghanistan will trigger extremist incidents aimed at Christian and other minority faith communities.
Frequent cases of the misuse by Pakistan's overwhelmingly Muslim majority of the country's draconian blasphemy law, which carries a maximum penalty of death, for settling grudges against Christians and other minorities continue to surface, Pakistan Christian News reports.
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Pakistan human rights activist Sajid Christopher, chief executive of the Human Friends Organization, said fears were raised that the Taliban-associated group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant organizations would capitalize on events in Afghanistan and target religious minorities, including Christians.
MEMORIES OF PAST TALIBAN POWER
"When the Taliban were in power before, there were a lot of terrorist attacks in Pakistan," Christopher told ACN on Sept. 2.
"There were terrorist organizations attacking churches and other Christian institutes and other Christian institutes. They became targets.
"Now the Taliban are back, it will strengthen the TTP and other Islamist groups, and so there could be attacks."
Building on security protocol already in place, tightened protection measures include increased action to check the identity of people entering church compounds by car, metal detectors used as people go in for services, and a heightened armed presence at church entrances.
Christopher also warned that the security outlook for more moderate Muslims was also of concern.
"Among peaceful and progressive [Muslim] communities, there will also be fear, but those with a militant mindset are happy that the Taliban is back in power again," he said.
His comments come at a time of fear for the safety of what remains of Afghanistan's tiny Christian community, those unable to be part of last week's mass evacuation of the most at-risk people, mainly non-local groups.
Aid to the Church in Need said Taliban fighters have allegedly gone house-to-house to track down Christians and other minorities.
There were also reports of people ordered to hand over their phones with death threats on the spot if their devices were found to contain Bible verses or devotional material.
Earlier this week, former U.S. religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback warned of genocide against Christians and other minorities in Afghanistan.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register on Sept 1, he was asked about some of the threats religious minorities face under Taliban rule?
"We saw this situation in a different country, in northern Iraq, when they couldn't negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq, and so we pulled our troops back.
"We got a genocide then that took place on the Yazidis and the Christians in northern Iraq. This was the genocide declared by Secretary of State John Kerry at the time, and that's what's likely to happen to the religious minorities left in Afghanistan if they don't get out or in deep hiding," said Brownback.
Brownback said, "Now, those religious minorities were more concentrated in kind of a rural area in northern Iraq. The Yazidis had a particular Sinjar mountain, which was their center of worship. The Christians were in the Nineveh Plains.
"That's an area that they had been since the times of Christ. But ISIS came through there and wiped them out — just killed them, drove them out. A lot of Christians got out; the Yazidis, a lot of them got killed.
"I'm afraid you're just going to see a similar scenario. And here in Afghanistan, it'll play out somewhat differently, but if the Taliban doesn't get you, ISIS is coming after you. I think it's a 2grave situation for religious minorities, including Christians, Christian converts, Hindus, Sikhs,
"Muslims that don't agree with the dominant philosophy; there are Shia Muslims. All those are in grave danger in this situation in Afghanistan," said Brownback.