Christians protest Pakistan church killings
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - Pakistan's Christian minority on Monday demanded better protection from the government after a devastating double suicide bombing at a church killed more than 80 worshippers on Sunday. Seven children were reported to be among those killed, with 37 others among the wounded. Christians staged protest rallies in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar and other cities and towns across the country over the deadly attack in the country's troubled northwest.
The September 22 attack on the 130-year-old All Saints Church in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is believed to be the deadliest ever to target Christians, who make up about 2% of the country's 180 million population and are considered by the Islamist extremists as soft targets. The dead reportedly included two Muslim police officers who had been posted outside the church.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which is facing a Taliban-led
insurgency, is home to about 200,000 Christians - of whom 70,000 live in Peshawar. The minority community has been the victim of extremism and discrimination throughout the country. In March this year, a frenzied mob of 3,000 set on fire more than 150 houses and several shops and a church of Christians at Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh area of Lahore city over alleged blasphemous remarks against Prophet Muhammed by Sawan Masih, a 28-year-old Christian sanitation worker.
In 2009, the Christian community in Gojra City, 100 miles southwest of Lahore, was attacked by a mob. Eight members of the community were killed and dozens of houses burned down over an alleged desecration of pages from the Koran, the holy book of Muslims.
The News commented,
We have become a country where identity - be it religion, ethnicity or gender - can be the difference between being allowed to live and having a permanent death sentence hanging over you. Christians are massacred while they pray, Shias are hauled out of buses and killed over belief, and women are murdered, raped and humiliated because of traditional notions of "honour".
The Christians - as patriotic and as Pakistani as any of us - have hardly ever been involved in controversies and have generally chosen to keep a relatively low profile, speaking out only peacefully about the ceaseless social, economic and religious discrimination in their face. Have they been targeted because of their association with the "west" and the notion that they have links with the Christians in the US and other nations? Who can assume that the madness that drives some to mow down human beings like that is immune to this brand of hatred?
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is at present governed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, which came to power on May 30 after a general election that month. The security challenge it faces is becoming graver with every passing day.
The provincial government came under bitter criticism following Sunday's attack for its failure to provide sufficient security to the place of worship of minority Christians. Khan strongly condemned the attack and pointed towards a possible conspiracy. He questioned why attacks like the one on the church occur whenever talk of dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban progresses? He also pointed out that a US drone attack was carried out on Sunday, yet he did not highlight how this was connected to the church attack. Khan has voiced support for holding peace talks with the Taliban and is strongly opposed to any full-fledged military operation against the militants.
Pakistan's political and military leadership unanimously decided to initiate peace talks with Pakistani Taliban at an All Parties Conference (APC) held on September 9 in Islamabad. The APC was chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and attended by army and intelligence chiefs. The TTP responded to the government offer of peace talks with demands for troops to be withdrawn from tribal areas and for the release of 4,752 prisoners.
Last week, the TTP accepted responsibility for a roadside bombing in the Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in which senior military officers were killed on their way to visiting troops.
Daily Times commented on Sunday's terror attack,
Attacks such as this show that the hopes pinned on the peace talks were just too naive. We are dealing with monsters that know not the meaning of negotiations. How can the government think that by talking to the TTP, which is the umbrella organization, it can stop attacks by renegade, autonomous factions of the Taliban? Even the military seems to be distancing itself from the peace talks.
Military operations against this multi-headed hydra is the only option, for the militants are now too many and too far down the road of being rogues. All those in the government who think dialogue is the way towards peace and security are fooling themselves. How can they ever look their citizens, particularly their minorities, in the eye again if they do not take a hard stance on these brutes? Bloody Sunday has sealed the deal. Will the government please stop playing the wimp and protect its people and the nation's flag that runs red?
Syed Fazl-e-Haider( www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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