Members of the Pakistani Christian community hold placards during a protest in Lahore to condemn Sunday’s suicide attack on a church in Peshawar, yesterday.
PESHAWAR: A devastating double suicide attack on a church in northwest Pakistan has triggered fears among the beleaguered Christian community that they will be targeted in a fresh wave of Islamist violence.
The blasts that tore through the congregation at All Saints church in Peshawar after the service on Sunday morning, killing 82 people, are believed to be the deadliest on the small community.
Shaloom Nazir, 14, was getting ready for Bible study at the 100-year-old church when the bombers struck just before noon. He lost his mother, father, sister, brother and uncle. “I was going to sit down in the church for a Bible class when I heard the explosion, so I ran out,” Nazir said, his voice choked with grief. “There were about 300 people lying on the ground. I recognised my mother, I took her in my arms.”
Christians make up two percent of 180 million population and have suffered attacks and riots in recent years over allegations of blasphemy.
Sunday’s carnage has raised fears that this might change.
“We have been treated like sinners. We have no land, no factories, no business,” said Saleem Haroon, who came to see two wounded cousins at the Lady Reading hospital.
“It is a new war. Before, the Shias were the target, now we are. They want to create a new battle, a new battleground.” Danish Yunas, 35, a driver escaped the blast with a leg wound, said Christians and Muslims had got on well in the past, but he feared those days were at an end. “We had very good relations with the Muslims, there was no tension before that blast, but we fear that this is the beginning of a wave of violence against the Christians.”
The Bishop, Humphrey Peters, said he had asked authorities to review security for Christians but to no avail. “I am afraid that this is the beginning, it can spread to the rest of Pakistan. We are the soft target. We are the poorest of the poor in this region and we are also marginalised.”
A militant faction linked to the Pakistani Taliban claimed Sunday’s attack, but the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied responsibility.
The government has proposed talks with the Taliban and TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the bombing was an attempt to sour the atmosphere. In London, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the government was “unable to proceed further” with talks following the church attack.
Thousands of Christians raged against the federal government and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government led by former cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
“We have been betrayed... Yesterday, none of the government came here,” said teacher Asif Nawab. PTI came to power in elections in May on the promise of a “tsunami” of change.
“In the elections Khan said this is a tsunami, it will bring change, but where is the tsunami? Is this the change?” AFP