Afghanistan: Suffering Intensifies

There was a time when the name 'Afghanistan' would conjure up in the mind images of frozen waterfalls, patchwork high plains, crystalline streams and beautiful, exotic Central Asian people. Today 'Afghanistan' only gives rise to thoughts of intense suffering and oppression beyond measure. In 1998, more than 8500 Afghans died in two major earthquakes and floods destroyed over 2000 farms. Now these same farmers are facing the worst drought in 30 years. Decades of war and disasters have ravaged the nation, producing millions of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs). In the Western Province of Herat, 130 families are arriving daily at that Maslagh Camp. In the second half of December 2000, 4500 families flooded into Herat City.

The land is littered with landmines and the fighting is relentless. Inside the 90% of the country it controls, the present ruling Taliban militia violently oppresses the people as it seeks to create the world's most 'pure' Islamic State. Music, entertainment, employment for women and education for girls are all banned. As 70% of the teachers were women, there are now very few teachers left for the boys, and greater financial hardship for many families.

With no constitution, issues such as freedom of religion are determined primarily by the unofficial, unwritten, and forever-evolving policies of the warring factions. The Taliban are strict Sunni Muslims and displayed their extreme religious intolerance and inhumanity in 1998 when they refused to allow the United Nations Food Program into the central province of Bamiya where 160,000 Shi'a Muslims were starving to death. Later, 4000 Shi'a were massacred when the Taliban captured the northern frontier town of Mazar-i-Sharif. There are no Christian 'churches' in Afghanistan, but there are an estimated 1,000 secret believers.

Earlier this month (January 2001), the Taliban Supreme Leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, issued a decree that "... all countrymen are seriously notified that any Muslim Afghan will be sentenced to death if he accepts Christianity and has converted to this nullified religion or is seen inviting people to Christianity and Judaism as well as propagating and distributing their books." Omar also claimed that "The enemies of Muslims are trying to eliminate the pure Islamic religion throughout the world." It is interesting that the Taliban leaders should feel so threatened. All Afghans are impacted by this policy. The Christians, especially new believers, are now more seriously at risk at the hands of the religious police and the 25 million Muslims are even more separated from the gospel than they were before. These Muslims not only live with intolerable oppression and suffering but are prevented from hearing the good news of the love of Jesus and the salvation he offers. Hence the utmost importance of religious liberty, not only for our Christian brothers and sisters, but also for the sake of the lost who need Jesus and who could delight in his love.

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