Families’ lives were shattered the morning of Easter Sunday by an explosion set off by a suicide bomber in Lahore, Pakistan. Christians celebrating the religious holiday were the target of an Islamic extremist group.
Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park was busy with mainly women and children. The bomber, armed with over thirty pounds of explosives, set off the blast within feet of the park playground equipment crowded with families.
Of the 72 killed, 36 were children. A further 320 were injured in an attack being dubbed “cowardly” by the U.S. State Department.
A splinter group of the Taliban known as Jamaat-e-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attacks. It is apparent from statements by a spokesman for the group, Ehnsanullah Ehsan, that their goal was to mount an assault on Christians.
The attacks are illustrative of the plight of Christians living in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country. Christians are a minority, making up only 2 million of the total 180 million person population.
These Pakistani Christians generally are subject to poor living conditions and live on the fringes of society as outcasts. Most of the Christians living within Islamabad inhabit slums that do not even receive power or gas from authorities.
Increasingly, under the Nawaz Sharif regime, Pakistan is being transformed from a secular state into a theocracy. The catalysts for this change include decades of rule by dictators as well as Islamism.
Christians within the country point to the conservative Pakistani Muslim League government as the cause of religious discrimination.
As a minority that constitutes less than three percent of the general population, Christians lack the numbers to have power within the government, making them unable to advocate for any change. While Pakistan has made an effort to crack down on Islamic extremists, the Easter morning bombing and other recent attacks on Christians show that these groups still remain a potent threat.
Jamaat-e-Ahrar spokesman Ehsan stated that the Easter morning bombing “was also to give a message to the government that it cannot deter us even in their stronghold, Lahore.” Throughout the country, there are still reminders of prevalent continued support for extremists amongst the general population.
The Easter morning bombing occurred at the same time as largescale protests in other parts of Pakistan. Demonstrators are protesting the execution of Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered governor Salmaan Taseer. Taseer had been a major advocate for changing the country’s “Blasphemy Laws,” which are widely utilized to persecute religious minorities like Christians.
However, a number of Pakistanis feel that alterations to these laws would be criminal, garnering a large number of supporters who revere Qadri.
Further reminders of the hostile climate towards Christians have surfaced with two other attacks by extremists within the month of March alone.
Condemning the Easter morning bombing and other attacks, the U.S. State Department has reiterated its continued initiative to combat terrorism: “Attacks like these only deepen our shared resolve to defeat terrorism around the world, and we will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat.”