Pakistani Christians played an important
role in Pakistan’s independence. When they were in dire need of Sikh, Persian,
and Christian minorities’ support, the Supreme Leader and other Muslim leaders
promised them equal freedom and rights in the newly established government.
Thus Christians in Punjab and Sindh were
fully active after 1945. Christians also supported the idea of a separate Muslim
Since Pakistan’s independence in 1947, until the mid-1970s, the Pakistani government was largely secular. But on 26 March 1971, Eastern Pakistan was declared the independent state
of Bangladesh, and most of the Pakistani Hindus (who
lived in Bangladesh) separated from Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s
transformation into a culturally integrated and increasingly Islamic state has turned
Islam to the source of legislation and a cornerstone of national identity. The
governments of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Zia al-Haq therefore took greater
Islamic law into account.
Most of Pakistan’s population are Muslims,
but Christians are the largest minority after the Hindus. The south of Karachi
has a large number of Christian settlements and there are many Christian
villages in central Punjab and the cities of Lahore and Faisalabad.
Most Christians’ Ancestors converted to
Christianity in order to escape their lower caste during British colonial
times. Christians are the poorest part of Pakistani society. But a number of
prosperous Christians live in Karachi and their ancestors were of the educated
and prosperous class.
Christians and the Islamic Extremists
Prior to separation from India, Pakistan was
a diverse religious and cultural community, but later tolerance to other
religions and cultures was reduced. Now, Pakistan is a country where Muslim
extremist groups and movements do not tolerate religious minorities. As a
matter of fact, Christians have repeatedly been subjected to bloody attacks by Islamic
extremists. Pakistani Christians, especially Christian Neophytes who have
converted from Islam to Christianity, have always been the main target of Islamic
hardliners. In this regard, the terrorist attack in Peshawar and the attack on
the Christian Center in Lahore were among the most violent terrorist attacks. Along with the bomb blast, suicide attacks, burning Christian homes
and churches and increasing ISIL attack on Pakistani Christians at Easter or
Easter celebrations are also signs of this.
Reasons behind extremists’ attacks on Christians
While Christians and Muslims previously used
to live in peace along with each other and were rarely attacked, the following
factors increased attacks on them.
First. Indeed, some consider the Pakistan constitution as the root of The radicalization of space for the benefit of extremists.
Since the 1990s, Anti-Blasphemy laws
approval has led to the Christians’ being accused of Blasphemy and insulting
the Prophet of Islam, while some of these
allegations are false charges with just personal motivation. These accusations
sometimes led to the violence against the Christians and they always have security concerns for religious celebrations.
Second. Before the separation, there was a
lot of tolerance in Pakistan, but tolerance has been reduced for several
Pakistani society has become increasingly
Islamized and homogenized. As some claim that before the separation, minorities
made up 15 percent of the country’s population, but
it is currently less than 4 percent.
Third. Most of the harassment of
Christians in Pakistan by extremist Islamic groups is influenced by political
parties. In this regard, some believe that extremist groups that have close
relationships with the security and intelligence agencies play an important
role in this area. Currently, these radical Islamist groups are managing
thousands of Islamic schools and educational centers and provide children and
youth with wrong and inappropriate teaching which lead to violence against religious minorities such as Christians. In
the meanwhile, churches that engage in social and youth activities experience
the worst persecutions.
Fourth. The US-led war in Afghanistan has
made Christians more vulnerable to deadly attacks. Indeed, some acts of
violence were politically motivated. Attacks on Christian minorities can also
be part of a militant message to the West and also a warning to the government
to message of Islamic extremists to the government to avoid from being too
close to the West.
Fifth. ISIL has supporters in Pakistan,
and many extremist militias in the two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan) follow
ISIL’s fanatical views of Shia Muslims and theory of putting Christians under pressure
and killing them.
Sixth. What is clear is that previous
governments have virtually failed to provide adequate space to prevent the
migration of Pakistani Christians abroad. In the meantime, the Pakistani
opposition has accused the government of “serious violations” of
religious freedom by failing to cooperate against terrorist groups.
The future of Pakistani Christians
Many Pakistani Christians believe that
they do not have the socio-economic status and equal access to available
opportunities, and indeed they are second-class, practically lower-income
citizens, and have been denied to become President, Prime Minister, Senate
Speaker, or National Assembly Speaker. They also claim that the Christians work
in the poorest part of society. In the same vein, some Pakistani think tanks
have included Pakistan in the list of a handful of countries that have placed religious
minorities under the strongest pressure.
Despite supportive measures adopted by governments in Pakistan
(such as allowing guns for Christians) to protect themselves against terrorist
attacks, radical Islamists have always viewed Pakistan’s Christians as a
threat. However, as three-quarters of Iraqi Christians have left the country
since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and also increasing of the number of
migrant Christians in Syria and the region after 2011, This may also happen for
Indeed, there may be numerous reasons such
as war, unemployment and convulsions in the region and the increasing attacks
by ISIS and other fundamentalists behind the increasing of Pakistani Christians’
migration to abroad in the short and long term. This in
turn can have many effects on Pakistan and its relations with Europe and the