Christianity in Pakistan has come under brutal attack, most recently with March’s Easter Sunday bombing. However, Pakistan’s intensely restrictive religious environment is as much to blame as the recent terror attacks for Pakistani Christians’ trepidation around practicing or identifying with their religion. Retributive actions and military-driven anti-terror campaigns alone will not make Pakistan a better, safer place for Christians. Cultural and societal changes are the necessary first steps.
In March 2015, in the weeks leading up to Easter, suicide bombers launched an assault on two churches in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore, killing 19 people. Then on Easter Sunday this year, Lahore was struck again when another suicide bomber blew himself up near a selection of children’s rides at the city’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park. At least 74 people were killed and hundreds more injured by the explosion. Among the slain were eight members of a single family.
According to a spokesperson of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the Pakistani Taliban splinter group responsible for the attack, the primary target was Christians celebrating the end of Easter.
These atrocities in Pakistan take place against a broader backdrop of increasing persecution of Christians throughout the world. A 2015 report by Open Doors, a Christian advocacy watchdog group, claimed that the events of the past year represented “the most violent and sustained attack on the Christian faith in modern history.” The report also found that 7,100 Christians were murdered because of their religion, while Pakistan ranked sixth on the list of countries in which Christians face the most severe persecution.
However, there is also a sense of hope – despite violent setbacks like the Gulshan-e-Iqbal tragedy in March – that conditions by which a decrease in the frequency of terror attacks in Pakistan can happen are improving. This optimism stems from the seismic shifts in government and military policy that followed the December 2014 terror attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 150 people dead – mainly children. Indeed, as a result of the 20-point National Action Plan to counter terrorism and an intensification of the Zarb-e-Azab military operation against the Pakistani Taliban in the wake of the massacre, 2015 saw a 56 percent decline in terror-attack fatalities from the previous year.
This article continues at [Foreign Policy] Is Pakistan Safe for Christians?