While Afghan factions are locked in a power struggle for control of territory, they are losing their people to Christian missionaries in the refugee camps in Peshawar. Two days before the start of the UN and OIC-sponsored talks in Islamabad between the Taliban and representatives of the northern alliance, Radio Shari’at, the Taliban-run radio in Kabul, said in a commentary on April 24, that certain aid agencies in Peshawar were involved in proselytising. The radio said, ‘Christians are openly proselytising among Afghans through their assigned charitable institutions inside Pakistan.’
The Islamabad talks had made some progress on the composition of a 40-member body of ulama to hold future talks but broke down over the question of prisoner exchange, a ceasefire, and lifting of the Taliban siege of Hazarajat where at least 100 people have died and thousands are on the verge of starvation. The Taliban representative, Abdul Wakil Mutawakil did not show up for the resumption of talks on May 3. Both sides traded accusations instead of getting together to hammer out their differences. On May 6, however, the Taliban allowed the first consignment of food to enter the Hazarajat, raising hopest that the talks may resume.
The Christian missionaries, meanwhile are continuing their activities. Radio Shari’at in its commentary said: ‘Nowadays their activities have become so obvious and intense that it is a direct threat to our nation and Islamic Emirate.’ It went on: ‘We will fight to the death for this cause. And we condemn their action and will never forgive them.’
It did not name any agency but said it would be lodging a formal protest through the Pakistani government and its diplomatic representatives in Islamabad and Peshawar. There are still more than two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, many around Peshawar. The Taliban accused unnamed radio stations of broadcasting Christian propaganda to Afghans in Dari and Pushtu languages and said some Afghans had been sent to Europe for religious training. How the aid agencies are able to broadcast Christian propaganda in Pakistan through radio is a mystery (There are no private radio stations in Pakistan).
Last December (December 10, 1997), the Frontier Post, the province’s English language newspaper, carried a front-page story about aid agencies’ proselytising activities among the Afghan refugees. It named two individuals in particular, Diana Thomas and Geoffrey Smith, of being most active. Both work for UK-based non-governmental organisations. Thomas was born in Israel but later ‘converted’ to Christianity.
The Frontier Post story also named the two most active agencies: Shelter Now International and Serving Emergency Volunteer Enterprises (SERVE), both of UK. They have been active in Kacha Garhi and Nasir Bagh areas of Peshawar and Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
While the Post story quoted a figure of some 90,000 Afghans of having converted to Christianity, informed sources in Peshawar have told Crescent International that the number of converts is at least twice as high. Most, but not all of the converts are former members of the Parcham Party (the communist faction that ruled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion). While the communists do not care much about Islam since they fought the mujahideen during the communist era, their conversion has an altogether sinister motive and raises serious questions about western aid agencies’ activities in Pakistan and other Muslim countries. The other converts are those Afghans who were unable to get official refugee registration cards. They fell prey to Christian missionaries.
Afghan and Muslim are synonymous. There was never any other religion in Afghanistan except for a tiny minority in Nuristan where some non-Muslims resided. Christianity, however, has been unknown in Afghanistan. Even during the communist era, no one officially went outside the fold of Islam. The tiny sprinkling of Hindu and Sikh shopkeepers in Kabul are all foreigners who settled there.
Christian missionary activities in the refugee camps of Peshawar are a serious development. They have distributed thousands of copies of the Bible in Dari and Pushto languages among the refugees. Others have been lured by promises of visas to Britain, Germany and France.
During the eight-year Afghan war, western intelligence agencies had a free hand in Pakistan. They compiled profiles of people, especially of Muslim activists from the Middle EAst. The western spies have used such information to good effect by discrediting Muslim activists and targeting them for elimination.
Since the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan, western governments have withdrawn their ‘help’, leaving behind a devastated country infested with millions of mines. Further, Afghan factions have been instigated to fight each other. The meddlesome Americans appear to have rediscovered the importance of Afghanistan now that an oil and gas pipeline needs to be built from Turkmenstan. On April 16, Bill Richardson, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, visited Kabul signalling renewed US interest in the country.
With the Afghan factions fighting each other and aid agencies busy proselytising, America’s re-entry on the scene is cause for concern. If the Afghans do not address this issue immediately, they will end up paying an even heavier price than they have paid in life and blood so far.
They will carry the additional ignominy of Christian Afghans in their midst for the first time in history, especially after waging a 10-year long jihad. This is the unkindest cut of all. But do the Afghan faction leaders realise it, or care about it?
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1998