Pakistan’s sectarian conflict continues to fester. During the morning hours of March 15, two Islamist suicide bombers belonging to Jamatul Ahrar, affiliates of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), chose to target Pakistan’s largest Christian community, in Youhanabad, Lahore. The bombers detonated their explosives and themselves near Saint John Catholic Church and Christ Church during Sunday Mass. In total, 15 people were killed and over 80 wounded.
Almost immediately, local Christians poured on to the streets in anger. Denouncing the perceived lack of police protection, the protests quickly turned violent. While not proven, locals alleged that the police contingent assigned to protect the locales were watching a cricket match instead of doing their job. A main highway was blocked and two suspected militant accomplices were taken by the mob. They were beaten to death, and then set on fire for all to see. Another body was reportedly found with gunshot wounds nearby as well. A local metro station was then ransacked, while cars were overturned on the aforementioned highway. As news of the attack spread, Christians gathered to block roads in Karachi and Islamabad.
The suicide bombings should come as no surprise. Pakistan’s Taliban has threatened such attacks and is adamant on undermining stability throughout the country. Again, a means of achieving this is targeting sectarian minorities. This includes Shiites, Christians and other seemingly non-Sunni Islamic sects. By targeting minorities, seemingly at will, the militants are showcasing the government’s inability to protect its citizens. This assessment is underscored in the fact that the TTP claimed responsibility for the blasts almost immediately.
Pakistan will surely respond, yet the effectiveness of any response remains questionable. Statements will be made denouncing the attacks by most parties, and guarantees of protection will be offered to the nation’s beleaguered Christians. Indeed, security will be bolstered around religious sites and near important government interests, yet this is only a defensive measure. Likewise, government offenses in the tribal areas, the Taliban’s citadel, have thus far been unable to stymie the militant threat. Militants can simply cross into Afghanistan or move to blend in with larger communities. To that point, in Karachi, where the Taliban is seeking to entrench itself among the refugee Pashtun population, nightly government raids have failed to defeat militancy there as well. Karachi only seems to be getting worse.
Amid the expanding influence of fundamentalist Sunni groups in Pakistan, coupled with the ongoing Taliban-state conflict, Pakistan’s minorities will remain under daily threat. The next major attack is only a matter of time.