ISLAMABAD: At a meeting of Catholic and Protestant leaders in Pakistan, the senior clergy agreed to tighten surveillance and take additional security measures, especially during Sunday services. With the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, there are serious concerns of extremist incidents aimed at minority communities, especially the Christians as Christmas draws near.
While the government claims that religious minorities enjoy complete freedom and that the state is ensuring the protection of their places of worship, vandalisation of churches, temples, and Ahmadiyya mosques at the hands of Islamist groups and mobs has been regularly reported. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah says that jihadist groups do pose a threat to worship places like churches, especially in the aftermath of the Taliban's rise to power.
"Appeasing (radical Islamist) groups would encourage more such groups. There is a need for a national consensus to deal with the threat (posed by jihadist outfits)," said Shah. "The scale of (radical Islamist) groups has increased. The write of the state is being increasingly challenged," he added.
Sajid Christopher, human rights activist and chief executive of Human Friends Organisation, confirmed that there were indeed fears that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups would target religious minorities following their overthrow of the Afghan government.
"The Taliban have frequently targeted churches and Christian institutes," he said. "(There are fears) that they will be targeted again."
Although attacks on the Christian community in Pakistan are common, such strikes on churches rose in frequency and intensity since the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. One may recall the December 2017 bombing of Quetta's Bethel Memorial Methodist Church ahead of Christmas; nine people were killed and dozens were injured in the attack.
In 2016, at least 72 people were killed and more than 300 were injured when a suicide bomb ripped through the parking space of a crowded park in Lahore, where people were celebrating Easter Sunday.
In December 2015, two bomb blasts killed at least 14 people near two churches in a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore. And in March the same year, more than 70 people were injured in explosions targeting worshippers attending Sunday mass at churches in the city's Youhanabad area. Similarly, in September 2013, All Saints Church in Peshawar witnessed a deadly terror attack, in which 127 people were killed and over 250 injured.
"We have always had security concerns, but many churches have issued warnings and increased security because of the developments in Afghanistan and an increase in Taliban attacks," said Imran Maseeh, a regular at All Saints Church. (IANS)