(Staff) A SUICIDE BOMBER blew himself up in a targeted attack on Christians in a large park in Lahore, Pakistan where hundreds of families had gathered to celebrate Easter. Among the 72 victims were more than 30 small children, who were playing outdoor games in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. At least 320 people were injured, mostly women and children.
The Taliban faction Jamaat ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the March 27th bombing. “We carried out the Lahore attack as Christians are our target,” said spokesman Ehansullah Ehsan.
Last year the group carried out a bombing at a Roman Catholic church in Lahore, in which 15 people were killed and 70 injured. Christians and other religious minorities have often come under attack in Pakistan over the past decade.
In 1947, the same year that Britain granted India independence, the predominantly Hindu subcontinent was partitioned and the nation of Pakistan was created as an enclave for Muslims. Today in the Muslim-majority country, there are only 3.8 million Christians, less than 2 percent of the total population of 192.8 million.
In 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, the Minister for Minorities and the only Christian member of the Pakistani cabinet, was murdered after he spoke out against the country’s infamous blasphemy laws. Blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad or desecration of the Qu’ran are punishable by death or life imprisonment, but these laws are often used to settle personal scores, particularly against religious minorities.
Punjab governor Salman Taseer, another high-profile politician, was gunned down by his own bodyguard after he defended a Christian peasant woman, Asia Bibi, who was caught in a neighbourhood dispute and sentenced to death for blasphemy.
When the bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, was arrested and sent to jail, he was instantly hailed as a hero by Sunni fundamentalists. The judge who sentenced him to death had to flee the country. After Qadri was executed on Feb. 29th of this year, as many as 100,000 people showed up at his funeral. Then as rescuers raced to save victims of the Easter attack, police in Islamabad clashed with thousands of Qadri sympathizers who wanted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to adopt Sharia law.
The latest bloodbath would seem to be an attack on the Prime Minister’s vision of a more liberal, inclusive democracy. In recent months Sharif has called for a more “educated, progressive, forward-looking” nation. In doing so, he’s backed moves to improve the lives of women and religious minorities – including Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and Shia Muslims – who have been frequent targets of sectarian violence.
His government unblocked Youtube and agreed to allow Easter and the traditional Hindu festivals of Diwali and Holi as public holidays. Sharif has condemned so-called honour killings as a “dark side” of Pakistani society, and lawmakers in his political base of Punjab are backing a bill to protect women. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, almost 1,000 women were victims of honour killings in 2011, the highest rate in the world.
Pakistan has seen more than 60,000 people die from terrorism since 2001, as Taliban insurgents based in the mountainous areas near Afghanistan look to overthrow democracy and implement Sharia law.
Christians in Pakistan feel increasingly under threat in their daily lives. According to Open Doors, a Christian organization that monitors global persecution, incidents of “overt violence can overshadow the everyday abuse of Christian girls – who are frequently abducted, raped, forced to marry and convert – and the ongoing abuse of the blasphemy laws.”
Open Doors has compiled a list of countries in which Christians are considered most at risk. Pakistan placed sixth after North Korea, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria.
Most Christians live in or near the southern city of Karachi, and in the Punjab region and around Peshawar. Many are poor and do menial jobs, although there are more affluent Christian families in Karachi.
After the Easter massacre, John Pontifex, communications director of Aid to Christians in Need told the Guardian: “This is a sickening and depraved attack on the most innocent and vulnerable people in society, enjoying their Easter festivities. What we are now seeing is a worrying trend of serious attacks on Christians clearly aimed at driving them away from their homelands by violent means.”
Unless the Pakistani government tightens security and tackles extremism, Pontifex said, “Pakistan will soon be added to the list of countries at risk of a genocidal threat against Christians and other minorities.” TAP –Various Sources