Anti-Christian Violence Threatens Fabric of Pakistani Society
Terrorists in Pakistan have targeted Christians in an Easter day attack. A suicide bomber detonated at a park in Lahore, where many Christian families were celebrating the holiday. Media reports indicate that half of the nearly 72 killed in the suicide bombing were children.
It was the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan in over 15 months.
A breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the group directly targeted Christians and that the bombing was a message to the Pakistani government that “we will carry out such attacks again until sharia is imposed in the country.”
This is the third major terrorist attack in recent years directed against Pakistan’s Christians, who make up less than two percent of the country’s total population.
In March 2015, two Christian churches were bombed simultaneously, killing 15, and in Sept. 2013, a suicide bombing of a church in Peshawar killed nearly 80.
In addition to the targeted terrorist attacks, Pakistan’s beleaguered Christian community also faces regular persecution and the threat of mob violence because of the proliferation of hardline Islamist ideologies throughout the country.
For instance, there was a mob attack in March 2013 against a Christian community in the Punjab after a man was accused of committing blasphemy.
In an upcoming special edition of The Review of Faith & International Affairs, I argue that the growing pattern of religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is threatening the fabric of Pakistani society and undermining democracy.
The proliferation of Sunni Islamist militant groups, along with exclusionary laws and a flawed education curriculum that teaches religious intolerance, has contributed to the crisis.
One of the most prominent examples of the growing culture of intolerance and extremism is the misuse of the blasphemy law and the inability of the Pakistani political leadership to amend these harsh laws due to threats from extremist forces.
Demonstrators thronged Islamabad over the weekend to protest last month’s execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who had assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer on Jan. 4, 2011, while serving as his bodyguard. Taseer was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and had defended a Christian farm worker, Asia Bibi, who has been jailed under blasphemy charges since 2009.
The recent demonstrations against Qadri’s execution show how deeply religious intolerance runs in Pakistani society.
The Pakistani authorities have reacted strongly to the terrorist attack, and Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Asim Bajwa said the army had already launched several raids throughout the Punjab province and picked up suspects and arms caches.
Pakistani officials have decided to give paramilitary forces the powers to conduct raids and interrogations in the same aggressive manner as they have been doing in Karachi for the last two years.
While the paramilitary crackdown against the terrorists responsible for Sunday’s abominable attack is certainly welcome, Pakistani officials need to take a more concerted, multi-faceted approach to rooting out religious intolerance from society and providing special protection to Pakistan’s religious minorities.
Copyright 2016 The Daily Signal