Easter Terrorist Attack Leaves Christians, Other Minorities Worried About Future in Pakistan

Government ramps up counter-terrorism efforts.



Even as the off-shoot of the Pakistan Taliban that claimed responsibility for Easter Sunday's suicide bombing at a Lahore park stressed they were targeting Christians in the attack that killed at least 70 people, local authorities insist the attack was not aimed at Christians specifically.

"The target was not the Christian community in particular," a senior police official said according to Pakistan Today, pointing out that Muslims were also killed in the attack.

Human rights activist Hussain Naqi told Pakistan Today that statement amounted to a "cover-up" by a government "trying to downplay the incident to hide its own failure at protecting Christians and minorities".

Activists point to a string of terrorist attacks aimed at Pakistan's minority Christian community, as well as blasphemy laws and their use by Muslims to settle personal scores. Activists told Pakistan Today Christian community leaders have been worried about a terrorist attack since the February execution of Mumtaz Qadri for the assassination of Salman Taseer for his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws, which also carry the death penalty.

Qadri was Taseer's bodyguard when he shot and killed him in March 2011. Two months later the country's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the cabinet, was also assassinated. He opposed the country's blasphemy laws as well.

There have been protests over Qadri's execution recently, with Islamist activists having planned prayers over the past weekend in support of Qadri, who they want declared a martyr. Protesters and police clashed in Islamabad yesterday, and there were more demonstrations over Qadri's execution today.

Protesters are also calling for the execution of Aasia Bibi, who was prosecuted under the country's blasphemy laws after drinking from the same water as her Muslim coworkers and asking them what Mohammed ever did to save humanity while defending her religion to them. She was sentenced to death in 2011, and both Taseer and Bhatti were among her most vocal supporters.

The prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, canceled a trip to Washington in the wake of the Lahore attack and said the government would be stepping up counterterrorism efforts, including with the use of Rangers, provincial paramilitary units that will be granted the authority to conduct raids, searches, and interrogations.

Sharif said the Lahore attack was a sign Pakistan was defeating the terrorists. "I know terrorists are attacking soft targets like public places and parks, killing innocent citizens in desperation because security forces have deprived them of their hideouts, training facilities and terrorist infrastructure," he said Monday in a televised address.