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One month after the fertile Swat Valley turned into a Taliban stronghold where Shari'ah law rules, the fate of local Pakistani Christians is uncertain.

Last month, in an effort to end a bloody two-year battle, the national administration surrendered all governance of Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province to Taliban forces. Sources estimate that 500 Christians remain in the area after steady violence killed and displaced hundreds and more than 200 schools for girls were burned down or bombed.

An associate pastor at Swat's sole Church of Pakistan congregation, comprising 40 families, told the National Commission for Justice and Peace that after the bombings, all local Christian families migrated to nearby districts. The peace deal has led most of the families to return to their homes with guarded hope for normalcy and for their children's continued education. Most, however, are reluctant to attend church.

"People don't come to the church as they used to," said the pastor, who requested anonymity. He said Christians don't believe the Taliban's promises of peace.

The associate pastor met with area Taliban leader Kari Abdullah to request land for a church building. Abdullah reportedly agreed, saying that his group intended to provide equal opportunities to Swat's religious communities.

But Parliament member Shahbaz Bhatti said Christians in Swat Valley have lived under terror and harassment since the Taliban began seizing control of the region.

"The Christian delegation told me that they favor the peace pact if indeed it can bring peace, stability, and security," said Bhatti. "But they also shared their concern: If there is enforcement of Shari'ah, what will be their future?"



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May 2009

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