Pak Christians bear additional burden

Suicide bomb attacks on two churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighbourhood – this locality is home to over a lakh Christians – underscore the continuing vulnerability of Pakistan’s religious and sectarian minorities to extremist violence. Clearly, the bombers, who belong to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, aimed at inflicting maximum damage; they struck when worshippers had congregated at the churches for Sunday mass.

Seventeen people were killed and over 70 injured. Sunday’s attacks were the worst on the Christian community since the suicide bombings in Peshawar in 2013 that killed 82 people. While all of Pakistan’s religious and sectarian minorities are routinely targeted by Sunni extremist groups – Ahmadiyyas, who have been declared non-Muslim suffer the worst violence – Christians bear an additional burden. They are looked upon as ‘stooges’ of the West. This often means that it is against them that revenge aimed at western governments is unleashed.

The roots of the sectarian violence tearing apart Pakistani society today can be traced back to the Islamisation – or rather the Sunnisation – of the state. This resulted in the state privileging Sunni Muslims and discriminating other communities. This was taken further during the regime of Gen Zia ul-Haq who took several steps including setting up of Sunni Muslim militias to supposedly protect Sunnis.

It prompted Shias to set up their own militias. Sunni and Shia militias not only attacked each other but also targeted ordinary people of other communities. Pakistani society has suffered on account of this violence. It is a matter of grave concern that the state is the key actor in this violence.

As distressing as Sunday’s suicide attacks is a mob’s lynching of two people suspected  accomplices. The lynching was no doubt prompted by frustration and rage with the failure of the police to bring to justice perpetrators of terrorist attacks across the community. However, such vigilante violence is not going to prevent further attacks nor can it be regarded as justice done.

It only compounds the original act of terror especially since the two men who were lynched were victims too as they were innocent bystanders. For justice to be done, Pakistani people of all communities must speak up against all forms of violence whether by the militias, the state or their own communities. Condoning one form of violence, while condemning others does not work to break the cycle of violence. Turning against each other isn’t the solution to terrorism.

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