People from cultures all over the world are fleeing their homelands, leaving their houses and possessions, and risking their lives in search of safer environments where houses can feel like homes. Homelands are no longer safe due to violence and conflict.
In the North Waziristan area of Pakistan, families are seeking refuge elsewhere due to a recent ground offensive by the government against the militants in the region, specifically the Taliban. It is unsafe and very traumatizing for people to live in this war zone. Before the ground operation by the military, air strikes were the leading cause of the death of innocent people. While terrorist organizations are being targeted in the rural north, they are operating under the noses of police in the larger cities. The strength of the Pakistani military is in question as militant operations still occur every day. This situation does not make the environment any safer for civilians all over the country. The constant conflict between the military and the terrorist organizations has caused people to leave.
This was the story that Samson Salamat, the Director of the Center for Human Rights Education – Pakistan told to a recent gathering on human rights and religious freedom in Pakistan. He shared how media reporting is being strictly controlled by the military, and how journalists are being physically attacked for their reporting and threatened with blasphemy if they pursue charges.
On May 7, human rights activist and lawyer Rashid Rehmad was murdered for defending a controversial blasphemy case. Anything can be labeled blasphemy and people, especially religious minorities, are being severely punished. More than 5,000 Hindu families are migrating from Pakistan each year. Around 1,000 girls are forcefully converted to Islam, then married. After the deadly attack on the church in Peshawar in September 2013, Christians are fleeing Pakistan to Nepal and Sri Lanka to become refugees cared for by the UNHCR.
But while the situation is discouraging, there are seeds of peace to stem the exodus of people to neighboring countries.
For decades, Columban missionaries in Pakistan have engaged in interreligious dialogue in the city of Lahore and in the Sindh Province. In 2012, Columban Father Robert McCulloch received the Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam, the highest civilian award that can be given to foreign nationals, for his service to “Health, Education, and Interfaith Relations” during his 34 years in Pakistan. At the time of his award, he said:
“The actual reality of Pakistan, its diversity in religions, cultures, languages and ethnic groups, is the source of and the manifestation of its identity: one out of many. It was this genius of the peoples of Pakistan which Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, the father and founder of Pakistan, identified as the source of the identity of the nation. On August 14, 1947, Jinnah invited people to go their own ways to their mosques, to their churches, to their temples, but to be collectively one in being Pakistani without difference or distinction and without discrimination.”
Columbans continue to work with Muslims in Pakistan for justice and peace and collaborate on humanitarian issues that affect Christians and Muslims alike. Together, they offer badly needed healthcare services and encourage dialogue. These peaceful actions are the way to a peaceful co-existence for people of all faiths in Pakistan. The presence of the Columbans in Pakistan is vitally important for planting seeds of peace and for giving people a reason to stay in Pakistan.