As the country prepares for national and provincial elections next week (July 25), Christians in Pakistan are concerned a change in power could bring more persecution. In the world’s sixth-largest country of 210 million, persecution of Christians continues to increase, ranking Pakistan at No. 5 on the World Watch List.
Next week’s elections mark a critical pivot point in the Muslim-majority country plagued with political, ethnic, and religious discord and violence. And Our Pakistani brothers and sisters have asked us to pray with them in this pivotal time for them and their country.
To help you pray with Pakistani Christians, we asked our local church network ALIVE how our brothers and sisters are praying. Below, we offer five things to know about the elections and five critical prayers you can pray for this catalytic time in the lives of Pakistani believers.
5 Things to Know About Pakistan’s Elections
- Pakistan is a mostly democratic, parliamentary republic controlled for decades by the country’s army, which in recent years is believed by many to be mainstreaming militant groups. The army continues to grow in financial power and influence.
- In the July 25 elections, 342 seats in the national assembly are up for grabs: 272 are general seats, which are elected by the public and can be contested. However, Muslims have historically almost always won these seats. Not a single Christian candidate is slated to run. The rest of the seats are reserved for women (60 seats) and minorities (10). These positions are nominated by the party and are meant to assure that women and minorities like Christians and Hindus have proportional representation in parliament. Of the 10 available minority seats, Christians may get two or three.
- Nawaz Sharif, who leans to the right politically, became Prime Minister in 1990 and oversaw a short-lived transfer of civilian power in 2013. Sharif was then ousted by the Supreme Court last year and sentenced earlier this month to 10 years in jail for corruption. This upheaval puts the election spotlight on four major political parties vying for control, as well as some emerging extremists thought to be backed by the military.
4. The four political parties include the following:
- Pakistan’s People Party The former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto (assassinated in 2007) was part of the PPP, which led the outgoing government coalition. Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, is the de facto leader of the PPP. Their son Bilawal will succeed him as party leader.
- Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz led by the ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
- Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, an emerging party led by former cricket player, Imran Khan. The PTI wants to create a welfare state, where the state is responsible for education, health, and employability of citizens. Many Christians fear Imran Khan as the country’s leader because he wants to go back to jirga, a traditional assembly of leaders that make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of the Pashtunwali conservative ethical code. These non-written ethical codes are dangerous for religious freedom when mixed with the strict Islamic law. In the past, Khan has supported the Taliban cause in Afghanistan, although he denies that today.
- The Jamaat-e-Islami, a leading religious party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a conservative Islamist political party led by Siraj ul Haq.
5. Most of the opinion polls suggest an overall lead by Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Imran Khan in a close second. Of these four parties, none really stands in the gap for non-Muslims.
“Who will build legislature to protect us against discrimination and Islamic extremism? Who will build more schools?” a local Christian told an ALIVE worker. “We really need God’s wisdom to determine who to vote for.”
If military-backed extremists are seated, it could mean more danger for Christians in Pakistan and a regression of democracy. It could also mean more difficulty in stopping alleged Pakistani backing of terror groups. Christians in Pakistan already suffer regular religious persecution and terrorist attacks, such as the 2016 bombing of a church that killed more than 70 people. They also endure job restrictions, forced conversions, and death sentences as the result of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
5 Ways to Pray With Pakistani Believers
When a country holds an election, political unrest often ensues. With Christians in Pakistan already in such a vulnerable position, our Pakistani brothers and sisters desperately need our prayers.
Below are five ways we can pray with the church in Pakistan:
- Pray that they will have clarity in their voting decisions, that they will cast their vote for the candidate with the most humility and servant-hearted attitudes, even if the candidates do not uphold Christian beliefs.
- Pray as Christians adjust to a new government. Pray that they find unexpected voices to speak on their behalf at the national and local levels. Pray that Pakistan’s new leaders will govern fairly for all Pakistanis and that God will protect Christians’ rights to live, work, and worship freely.
- Pray that they will not be plagued by fear and anxiety for their futures in Pakistan and they remain strong in their faith. Pakistani Pastor Sharoz* said, “I sense that a difficult season is ahead of us. Please pray that we will stand up against and not flee from the darkness.”
- Pray for the country’s health care policy. A Christian doctor there told our local ministry partner: “Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, with every baby facing a high chance of infant death. Day and night, I care for patients and it breaks my heart that probably while I am treating Muslims, Christians are being turned away from the door of the hospital because they do not pay the Islamic taks [tax].”
- Pray with those who feel unheard and overlooked. A young Christian woman asked us to pray for the brick kiln workers and farmers, who have publicly said they are not interested in the outcome of the elections because “nobody cares about us anyway.”
Why Our Prayers Matter
There are two main reasons why it matters that the Church pray for next week’s elections in Pakistan:
First, our persecuted family in Pakistan needs us. They feel supported when we pray with them. Jesus said where two or three gather in His name, He will be in their midst. Praying is gathering together in the spiritual realm.
Second, prayer changes things. We see in the Bible how God often intervenes when people speak to Him. In Exodus 32, Moses pleaded with God not to leave the people of Israel; and the people were saved. In the 1980s, Open Doors led prayer movements for the Soviet Union, and the world saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and prisoners released. And since the 1990s, we have prayed for the church in the Muslim world. Since then, we have seen increasing numbers of Muslims trust Christ.
Prayer makes a difference.
A Pakistani Christian’s Prayer
One Pakistani Christian shared her poetic prayer:
Lord, have mercy.
Father as you hear our prayers,
Lighten our darkness,
Lord, we pray, and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Defend us, deliver us, and in thy compassion protect us,
O Lord, by your grace, have mercy.
Let us commend ourselves, and one another,
and all our life, to Christ our God.
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