For centuries, Christians have been a part of the Asian subcontinent in what is now known as Pakistan. There are famous Pakistani Christians, such as A.R. Cornelius, the first non-Muslim chief justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, but also politicians, educators, health care professionals and fighter pilots. But Christians often rank among the country’s poorest people, often working at menial jobs and living in poor, slum-like areas. Some of the Christian population has its roots in the Hindu religion. When Pakistan was carved from a larger India in 1947 and given independence as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims, many Dalats or lower caste Hindus living in what is today Pakistan, converted to Christianity. Things worsened for Christians, like many minorities, after dictator Zia-ul Haq nurtured Islamic militancy to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In the 1980s and 1990s, Christians sometimes were set upon by mobs of militant Muslims, but it wasn’t until after the 2001 U.S.-led assault on Afghanistan that attacks against Pakistan’s Christians increased both in numbers and ferocity.
Nature of violence
In predominantly Christian neighborhoods, radical Muslims have carried out attacks based on trumped-up charges of blasphemy, which is punishable by death. Christians are routinely accused by radical Muslims of trying to undermine Pakistan as an Islamic state. There have been reports of forced conversions of Christian girls. In January, a girl was killed and two were injured when they refused the advances of three Muslim men, who ran them over upon learning they were Christian. An Islamabad-based think tank, The Jinnah Institute, called the violence “some of the worst mob attacks against minority communities in Pakistan.”
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Radical Muslim extremist groups that espouse a violent anti-Western philosophy and demand Islamic law throughout Pakistan see Christians as allies of the West and opponents of their interpretation of their faith. While Pakistan’s most violent militant groups are sectarian-based and often attack each other, they will routinely unite against Christians. The alliance of Taliban groups operating in tribal areas known as the Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan specifically target Christians. Attacks have increased as Pakistan’s military has stepped up its assault on the Taliban’s tribal hideouts. The Lahore bombing was carried out by a breakaway Taliban group that also said the violence was in retaliation for an army offensive in North Waziristan that began in 2014. Also targeting Christians are groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a virulent anti-Shiite group; Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is also known as the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the Sunni militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba.