09/02/2021 Afghanistan (International Christian Concern) – As most are now painfully aware, the Afghan arm of the Taliban took control of the country after a twenty-year war with the United States and its allies. What is not often mentioned is how the regime shift may strengthen the Taliban’s partnerships with neighboring terrorist groups like the Pakistan arm of the Taliban, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, a Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist organization.
The Taliban is known for persistent religious freedom violations. Focused on spreading its form of Sunni Islamic rule, the Taliban views any expression of religion outside of its prescribed bounds as punishable by imprisonment, torture, and even death. Even many other Muslims are deemed apostates. As the Brookings Institute states: “The Afghan Taliban are virulently anti-Shiite. There have already been incidents of violence. That will increase sectarian tension in Pakistan which has a much larger Shiite population than Afghanistan.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2021 Annual Report recommends Pakistan be labeled a Country of Particular Concern for its particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Afghanistan is on the State Department’s Special Watch List. The Taliban is listed as an Entity of Particular Concern.
USCIRF’s 2021 report “assesses religious freedom violations and progress during calendar year 2020 in 26 countries and makes independent recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and Congress for U.S. policy.”
Explaining the rubric by which it rates countries, USCIRF explains that “under IRFA, particularly severe violations of religious freedom means ‘systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations,’ including violations such as: (A) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; (B) prolonged detention without charges; (C) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or (D) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently remarked that the Afghan Taliban likely has its eye on expansion inside Pakistan. They assert that the Taliban in Afghanistan disregards Pakistan’s current leadership and questions whether the Pakistani military would resist should the Taliban advance.
All of this spells danger for religious freedom and for Christians in Pakistan. According to the leader of a Christian ministry inside the country, blasphemy cases and the kidnapping of Christian girls by Muslim men are on the rise. Pakistani Christians already face the similar
consequences as those in Afghanistan. Should they be found guilty of offending Islam or attempting to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ, death or imprisonment await. Within the past two years, several Pakistani Christians have been acquitted—including a married couple freed of blasphemy charges, this past June—instilling a glimmer of hope in the Pakistani government. However, those hopes are now fading with the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
In this bleak setting the international community must work to advance religious freedom. The U.S. must continue to pressure governments harboring radicals to embrace minority faiths. If the U.S. is no longer willing to use military might, it should use the power of the purse to impose harsh sanctions on every entity working to fund oppressive regimes in south Asia. Reuters reports that the Taliban is facing economic collapse only a couple of weeks after regaining control. Therefore, this may be the perfect time to pull the purse strings. If D.C. wants to stifle the Taliban’s power and protect religious freedom, it should work quickly to cut off the financial lifelines essential to the group’s advancement.
For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: [email protected].