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Pakistani students ponder their future

PAKISTAN (BP)–For Americans, the name Osama bin Laden conjures images of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. In Pakistan, it is the same for many Muslim university students.

They’re not proud of bin Laden. They don’t align themselves with militant Islam.

They’re concerned what the future will bring and are ready for a new way of life so that their country can develop economically and overcome the image of violence the world has seen.

“It’s very painful to talk about Pakistan’s image across the globe,” Ghina Guneta*, a Pakistani university student, said. “Wherever there are any terrorist attacks, Pakistan is held responsible either directly or indirectly.”

In some ways the death of bin Laden was just another day in Pakistan. The news is always reporting the assassination of someone.

“Pakistanis are used to it,” said Tariq Ahluwalla*, another Pakistani university student.

Students agree that Pakistan has paid a price in recent years because of al-Qaida and the 9/11 attacks. For these university students, it will be difficult to experience a new way of life because their passports will keep them from having access to many places in the world.

Cade Rutledge*, a university instructor, said his students regularly talk about the effects of world events on young people in Pakistan. “These students represent a whole generation of Pakistani youth that are ready for a turning point in their country,” Rutledge said.

This young generation wants change so much that they’re even open to discuss issues of faith — such as Christianity. Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws, however, keep it from moving much beyond a philosophical discussion in a classroom to taking root in their own lives.

Students say there’s a lot of pressure to be good Muslims. The blasphemy laws allow for a death sentence for people who leave or “insult” Islam. Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in Pakistan’s government, was assassinated March 2 after pushing for reform of these laws.

Pakistan is a difficult place for a Christian of any nationality, but it’s especially difficult for Americans. Louis Claman* nevertheless sees this as the best time for Christians to show love to Muslims. After all, the American added, people are people and naturally drawn to each other.

On a trip in Pakistan, Claman recounted, he met someone affiliated with a Mujahideen group.

“He hugged me and invited me for tea,” the American said. “At that time in history, we were not enemies — me, the American Christian, and he, the Muslim Mujahid who fought for the liberation of Kashmir and Afghanistan.”

That day was Sept. 11, 2001. Since they were in an area with no phone, they did not know about the day’s events back in the United States.

“Neither of us could have imagined the way the world would change over the coming decade,” Claman said. “Forced to be on the global stage, young men such as this were compelled to choose between a false dichotomy of al-Qaida or USA.”

Since that time, Pakistan has persevered through an earthquake that killed nearly 100,000 people and a massive flood that destroyed infrastructure and crops.

“The people are demoralized by chronic poverty, racked by corruption and desperately seeking God,” Claman said.

Isaiah and Josie Gabdon* agreed with Claman that there is an openness to hearing God’s Word. The couple has worked among South Asian peoples for 16 years and has seen the openness come and go. They have seen that anytime there is a significant event in the Muslim world — like an attack or an uprising — people become more open to talking about life and death issues.

“The conditions in the country [terrorism and economic problems] are leading many Pakistanis to question things and have softer hearts to the Gospel,” Isaiah Gabdon said. “Nearly 70 people have come to faith in recent months.”
*Name changed. Torie Speicher is a writer serving among South Asian peoples as a volunteer with International Mission Board.

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  • Torie Speicher