Afghan Christians in Danger One Year Later
Analysis. Last August the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in disastrous fashion. Who can forget the images of chaos, confusion, and desperation at the Kabul Airport as the infamous Taliban forces quickly reclaimed control of the nation’s capital? Now, one year later, reports are documenting dangers for religious minorities who remain — especially Christians.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) posted a new publication on Aug. 23 that warns of a “drastically deteriorated” religious environment since the return of the Taliban. While the radical Islamist group attempts to promulgate a veneer of tolerance to the outside world, it has actually taken steps to curtail liberty for women, to outlaw music, to require beards and non-Western clothing, and even to reestablish the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — complete with its notorious morality police.
“The Taliban’s practices remain unchanged after two decades out of power,” USCIRF’s report says. “Based on the group’s strict religious interpretations, it has reintroduced and enforces harsh restrictions on all Afghans, including those with differing interpretations of Islam.”
Particularly vulnerable are Afghan Christians. In fact, the Taliban denies that the Christian community even exists.
“There are no Christians in Afghanistan. A Christian minority has never been known or registered here,” one Taliban spokesman told VOA News earlier this year.
But USCIRF indicates that there are at least 10,000 to 12,000 Christians in the country — a number that comes from International Christian Concern (ICC), which has released its own report about the plight of Afghan Christians in recent weeks. And the chilling disavowal of the existence of Christians in Afghanistan — many of whom have turned to the Lord from Islam — only makes matters more difficult and dangerous.
“In the Taliban’s militant interpretation of Islam, Christian converts are considered apostates who deserve death,” said ICC. “Under Taliban rule, forsaking Islam is illegal, rendering Christians a ‘community of criminals.’”
Christians were never very welcome to many in Afghanistan. But during the era of the U.S.-supported government in the aftermath of 9-11, threats were “prevalent but less egregious,” ICC indicates, and pastors could reach out to their own communities. Now, however, Christians are hunted. And ICC says one of the Taliban’s most effective methods of finding them is by sifting through mobile phone contacts and the social media of their suspects. These Christians may then suffer kidnapping, demands for ransom, torture, and death.
A leader of the Afghan House Church Network told USCIRF in January: “The Taliban, their plan eventually is the elimination of Christianity, and they have been very open about that.”
Unfortunately, Christians cannot easily escape the danger or find help, according to ICC. Two neighboring nations — Pakistan and Iran — are hardly particularly hospitable places for any of the Afghans flooding over the border to escape the Taliban. And for Christians, matters can be even worse still, as both those nations are listed among Open Doors USA’s 10 most dangerous places for followers of Christ (Afghanistan is No. 1). ICC’s report actually documents a case in which one Christian family chose to return to Afghanistan and risk having to hide from the Taliban, rather than try to subsist in the deplorable conditions of Pakistan.
Turkey is another place Afghans may try to flee and seek assistance as refugees. The process is more formalized there, ICC says. “Since Turkey is a Muslim-majority country with ties to the Taliban, many Afghan Christians are not comfortable sharing their faith [and] that is why they cannot live inside Afghanistan any longer.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Middle East/North Africa regional manager, adds: “Whether they remain inside Afghanistan or migrate elsewhere, Afghan Christians cannot seek out humanitarian aid at the same capacity and through the same channels as other Afghans.”
Both ICC and USCIRF call on the U.S. to hold the Taliban accountable for its human rights abuses. In particular, ICC urges against any diplomatic recognition legitimizing the Taliban’s regime.
“The underground church in Afghanistan needs support from the international community as targeted killings and other forms of persecution are rising,” ICC says.
Will you pray for the thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ being hunted for their faith in Christ by the Taliban, or who suffer discrimination as refugees? Let’s pray, too, for organizations like ICC that seek to serve these believers on the ground. And may the U.S. show itself to be a friend to those so suffering in the wake of its withdrawal.
How are you praying for persecuted Christians around the globe, especially in Afghanistan? Share this article to encourage others to pray.
Aaron Mercer is a contributing writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena. Photo Credit: Getty Images.
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