Christian anger mounts in Pakistan. New 'soft targets' for Taliban?

Suicide bombers hit Catholic and Protestant churches on Sunday, and four Shiite mosques have been attacked. Christians took to the streets Monday in an unusual display of anger.

K.M. Chaudary/AP
Pakistani Christians attend the mass funeral service of the victims of Sunday's pair of suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, March 17, 2015.

An unprecedented set of riots by Christians in Pakistan following suicide bombings in two churches shows that religious minorities here are increasingly fearful of being targeted in – and possibly pushed out of – the majority Sunni Muslim nation.

Christians abandoned their normally low-key response to attacks by clashing with police and vandalizing property after Taliban militants attacked Catholic and Protestant churches in Lahore Sunday, with 15 congregants killed. 

The bombings took place in one of the largest Christian neighborhoods in Pakistan, known as Youhanabad, that has nearly 100,000 residents. Lahore itself is the home of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

While the Christian protests started peacefully and included children, they turned angry and ugly. Christians took to the streets in a number of cities, and in Lahore three people were killed. A Muslim wrongly accused of helping the suicide bombers was subsequently lynched on Sunday, and on Monday, two Christians were run over by car, according to police.

The Taliban appear to be using religious minorities as “soft targets” in Pakistan – on the assumption that attacks on Christians and Shiite Muslims will win them sympathy with a local audience here that has been steadily radicalized over a number of years. Religious minorities concur that they are an increasingly likely target – and argue that they are being ignored by a government that should protect them.

“The violent response from the Christian community is a dangerous trend,” says Peter Jacob, director of the Center for Social Justice, a minority rights NGO in Lahore. “There is an utter sense of deprivation among the Christian community and other such religious minorities."

Christians make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s 95 percent Sunni Muslim population. Shiites make up less than 15 percent and resent what they often say is second-class status in Pakistan's Muslim world.

Analysts describe minorities as an alternative target by the Pakistani variant of the Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban's high-profile assault on an Army school in Peshawar in December left nearly 150 students and teachers dead. Following a national outcry over the brutal killings, the Pakistan government vowed to crack down, and unveiled a national action and counter-terrorism plan.

The Taliban's response has been to assault four Shiite mosques and now two churches, apparently with the calculation that it would meet with little significant pushback.   

“The government does not come under the same pressure from the public, media, and the civil society as it does when mainstream Pakistanis are attacked,” says researcher Rabia Mehmood, of the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute. 

Ms. Mehmood, who has worked extensively on minority rights and is compiling a report on the topic, believes that since the pressure is not there, the government response is weak.

“Also, attacking minorities only ensures that terrorist groups like the Pakistani Taliban do not lose their appeal within the larger Muslim Sunni society, especially the religious extremist groups from where they find recruits,” she adds.

Mr. Jacob, who grew up in a Christian household, feels that rioting by Christian youths cannot be condoned. But, he says, “with systematic state persecution over the years and recent non-state violence toward [Christians], minority groups, especially the young ones among them, are now feeling frustrated with government’s lack of protection for their community.”

Human rights activists say the government should introduce reforms that improve relations between different parts of society. Studies show numerous forms of discrimination in areas ranging from school curricula to the media to the law.

“The religious minorities in Pakistan feel disconnected when it comes to government policies,” Jacob adds. “And if such gaps are not addressed, there will be further polarization in a society that is already so intolerant toward religious minorities."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Christian anger mounts in Pakistan. New 'soft targets' for Taliban?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today