On the afternoon of Easter Sunday 2016, an Islamist suicide attacker detonated a bomb in Gulshan Iqbal Park, Lahore. The bombing was targeted at Christian families who had gathered in the park to celebrate Easter. Seventy-four people (including 29 children) were killed and 370 injured. Police examining the blast zone found ball bearings a few metres away from children’s swings.
Two years on, those scarred and maimed by the attack have learned to carry on with their lives and cope with their grief, but is Pakistan’s Christian community any safer?
Despite promises of action from politicians, Pakistan’s Christian minority continue to face violent attacks by Islamists.
On the morning of Sunday 17 December 2017, Islamic State suicide bombers targeted Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta. The church was packed for a pre-Christmas service. Two courageous men – a 63-year-old grandfather and a 35-year-old father of five – locked the church gates to delay the attackers, but nine Christians were killed and more than 50 injured. Christian festivals are a dangerous time for believers: a week before the bombing in Quetta, a seven-year-old boy was killed when a bomb went off at the gate of a Christian colony in Chaman, Baluchistan.
In January 2018, authorities in Abbottabad in north-west Pakistan ordered six house churches to shut down following alleged security threats. The decision was only reversed after protests from the Christian community. Arshad Nayer, a local pastor, said, “Instead of providing security for the said churches, the administration has found it convenient to shut them down.”
Each vicious attack leads to loud promises of action against terrorists. But once the sound of sirens fades and the shrapnel is swept away, Pakistan’s embattled Christian minority are left to mourn their loved ones and count the days until the next atrocity.
Following the 2016 Lahore Easter suicide bombing, Parvaiz Masih, one the Pakistani Christians injured, said, “Fear is a fact of life for us here. From morning ‘till night, we [Christians] feel fear, not only of violent attacks but of all the smaller humiliations that go with being part of a minority community.”
Pakistan’s Christians – who number as many as 3.5 million people – are discriminated against in employment and live with the ever-present threat of “blasphemy” allegations and potential mob violence, while Christian young women and girls are routinely abducted and forced into marriage. Attacks on churches are far from the only peril they face.
The narrow, vertical white stripe that runs down the left hand side of the Pakistani flag is supposed to symbolise the place of the country’s non-Muslim minorities. But the suffering of Pakistan’s Christians still leads to little meaningful action.
Two years on from the deadly blast in Lahore, there is nothing to suggest there will not one day be a repeat.