While Pakistani Christians are burdened with the status of being the most at risk community in Pakistan, they enjoy a surprising amount of liberty in the embattled South Waziristan Agency (SWA), Pakistan Today has learnt.
There is a solitary church in the heart of Wana, headquarter of South Waziristan Agency, where members of the small Christian community regularly offer their Sunday prayers, despite the precarious security situation. This has been the case since the last decade. There are over 1,000 Christians are living in Wana.
The foundation stone of the church was laid by Absar Ahmed Minhas, former colonel of the South Waziristan Scouts. This had been a long-standing demand from Christians living within the military compound.
Pervez Masih, a retired commander from the ‘Militia Force’ residing in South Waziristan, told Pakistan Today that they are peace-loving people and the local tribes have treated them with great respect.
“The locals have a good behaviour towards us and we have never faced any problem here despite the fragile security situation in the area,” he said.
Pervez said that they enjoyed complete religious freedom and even shared moments of happiness and sorrow with Muslims, as they neither faced any problem from the military nor from the Taliban.
“Christians are facing numerous problems elsewhere in the country, but we are enjoying extreme liberty and cordial relations with our Muslim brothers,” he said with great satisfaction.
Another senior member of his community said that the Christian community in Wana might be safer than local tribal people, as both the tribesmen and the Taliban are their guardians.
A senior journalist from South Waziristan, Zulfiqar Ali, said that undoubtedly people from the Christian community, who have been living in the area since before the inception of Pakistan, are enjoying complete freedom.
He said that members of the Christian community have their own businesses and can roam freely across the agency sans any fear. They even take part in the celebrations of Muslim and vice versa, as they have good friends in the area, he added.
Despite the uncertain security situation in SWA since the last decade or so due to the ongoing military operations against the Taliban, he said that the community remained unharmed.
Muhammad Idress Wazir, a local, told this scribe that members of the Christian community speak the local language fluently and the locals have good relations with them.
He went on says that the local tribal people were proud to see the minority performing their religious obligations freely.
However, members of the minority community anonymously told this scribe that despite good relations with the locals they did have issues with the local administration, which has not allotted them a piece of land to bury their dead.
He said that most of their young are jobless and his community does not get any jobs through the five per cent quota reserved for minorities. He demanded concerned authorities to consider their due demands.
A local official on the condition of anonymity told Pakistan Today that the Christian community is completely safe and they have no security problems. However, he said that in 2008, five Christians were kidnapped briefly but they were released unharmed by their captors.