LAHORE: The situation among Christians in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, is tense. After the attack on the Peshawar church, followed by the attack on the Ahmadiyya place of worship in Sialkot on Sunday and Monday, respectively, fear is the logical response and here is reason: Punjab has been the most dangerous province followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with regard to attacks on minority communities. There are calls to enhance security.
Though individuals from minority communities have been attacked throughout Pakistan’s history, attacks against Christians began after the Afghan-led war on terror in 2001.
The chronology includes the Sangla Hill incident, where about 3,000 militants attacked Christians, the Gojra riots, several individual blasphemy cases, assassinations of the minister Shahbaz Bhatti and governor Salmaan Taseer in response to their being against the Blasphemy Law, the attack on over 100 Christian homes in Joseph Colony in Lahore, attacks on countless Christian homes and churches in response to the Danish cartoons incident, and other attacks on individuals which were never remembered.
Though Christians account for around 1.5 percent of the population they feel they are most susceptible in Punjab because of their higher number and wonder how has the province of Sufis become so violent and that too towards minority groups.
“The law has often been abused to target minorities, settle vendettas and personal disputes and settle land issues,” says a Christian whose house was burnt down during this year’s Joseph Colony attack. “They want to erase us so that they can encroach upon our land.
In 2005, riots spread across Faisalabad when Christians were blamed for the desecration of the Quran; in 2001, 16 people died in Bahawalpur when gunmen burst into a church, spraying bullets. During the 1990s, some Christians were arrested on charges of blasphemy.
Faisalabad’s Bishop John Joseph committed suicide to protest the execution of a Christian man on blasphemy charges.
Eric Dayal from Emergency Response Office from CARITAS international, says the fear for survival never leaves. After all, the attack in Peshawar was not a first. But the fear has increased now and “we feel very strongly now that security must be enhanced.”
As a result, Christian community leaders have been asked to be vigilant within neighbourhoods.