September 22 marks the eighth anniversary of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan. At least 85 people were killed and more than 140 injured in the double suicide bombing outside All Saints Church in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Presbyterian Church produced an anniversary banner honoring the âmartyrsâ who died in the attack.
Jundallah, a group linked to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to US drone strikes.
When the Afghan Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government in Kabul, some Pakistani officials and religious parties congratulated them on their victory. However, Catholic officials were alarmed.
âThere is a similarity between the current Pakistani and Afghan federal governments, as both have denied religious diversity in their cabinets. It is alarming because minorities have been considered like the others in their own country â, tweeted Anjum James Paul, the Catholic President of the Pakistan Minority Teachers Association.
September 7 Afghan news from Pajhwok reported that partitions were erected in university classrooms after the Taliban announced that male and female students should not attend a single classroom.
Catholic and Protestant leaders in Pakistan say government should dig deeper and do more than blame foreigners for deadly attacks on churches
On the same day, the Pakistan Education Authority issued a letter urging female teachers in Islamabad not to wear jeans and tights. Their male counterparts were also prohibited from wearing jeans and T-shirts.
Meanwhile, Taliban attacks have become frequent in Pakistan with two suicide bombings reported so far in September. At least three paramilitaries were killed on September 5 in the Quetta region of Balochistan province, while seven soldiers were killed on September 13 in the tribal region of North Waziristan.
On September 17, the mad cricketer nation suffered a massive setback when New Zealand abruptly called off its limited tour at the last minute citing safety concerns. Three days later, England also withdrew from their men’s and women’s cricket tours next month.
The cancellation of cricket tournaments is a huge embarrassment for Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketer. International cricket matches in Pakistan had started with relative frequency in recent years after being suspended in 2009 following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.
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Some analysts now fear that failing to find high-value targets like foreign cricket teams, the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate known as Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) could fall back to easy targets. like the churches and temples of the country.
Pakistan’s Catholic and Protestant leaders say the government should dig deeper and do more than just blame foreigners for the deadly attacks on churches. Discriminatory treatment is systematically inflicted on Christians, who face a lack of employment opportunities and limited access to education despite their contributions to defense and well-being.
They also point out how many of the Afghan Taliban leaders were educated in madrasas (religious schools) in Pakistan. Pakistan has about 36,000 madrasas. Human rights activists have long accused these private institutes of producing intolerant clerics.
Now, with the unique new national curriculum that places a heavy emphasis on Islamic instruction, even average students will be radicalized, educators fear.
Islamabad police over the weekend registered a complaint against Lal Masjid’s religious leader Maulana Abdul Aziz and his gunmen for preventing police and district administration from removing Emarat’s flag. e-Islami (Afghanistan led by the Taliban) deployed at the summit of the Islamabad seminar.
Photos shared on social media showed Aziz holding a Kalashnikov. “The Pakistani Taliban will teach you all a lesson,” he told officials. The mosque is very close to the high security zone where the Prime Minister and the President reside and where the Parliament buildings are located.
Religious minorities, women, children and foreigners will remain at risk
The tendency to hoist the flags of the Taliban will go beyond Islamabad. The new wave of terrorism will be deadlier.
“Pakistan will be the country most affected as the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan,” Ashiknaz Khokhar, head of the Active Youth at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Sahiwal, Punjab province, told me.
He said all territories sharing a border with Afghanistan will have to rework their diplomatic relations. âReligious minorities, women, children and foreigners will remain at risk,â he added, apparently referring to the fact that most Pakistani Christians live in northern Punjab.
Things will not improve until peace continues to be seen as a foreign agenda in Pakistan. Internal change is needed to bring stability to the country, Christian and Sikh speakers said on World Day of Peace hosted by Human Friends Organization, a Catholic organization, in Lahore on September 21.
The mood at the event was gloomy and Ejaz Alam Augustine, Punjab’s Minister for Human and Minority Rights, urged clerics “to work as a double team” for interfaith harmony.
The Church and Christian organizations need to move from these peace programs and awareness sessions to meaningful consultation. Clerics have successfully engaged in interfaith commissions. It is high time to bring them closer to human rights groups.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.