Although Pakistan used to be a tolerant multi-faith society, it has undergone an Islamist transformation in the last 40 years and is now a hot-spot of Christian persecution.
The cross has been erected just inside a former British colonial cemetery in Karachi and is one of the tallest in the region. It is funded by businessman Parvez Henry Gill, who says he’s building it as “a symbol of peace and hope”.
The cemetery, known as the Gora Qabaristan – literally meaning “a graveyard for the white people” in Urdu, has fallen into disrepair in recent times with the land being used for illegal settlements. Rubbish is often dumped within it, while graves, featuring crosses and religious statues, are often vandalised.
In some ways the fate of the graveyard mirrors that of Pakistan’s Christian population. Christians played a prominent part in the early days of the Pakistani state, formed in 1947 during partition of the Indian subcontinent, partly as a hangover from its colonial days under the British.
Pakistan’s newly formed Supreme Court counted Justice A R Cornelius, a Christian, among its most senior judges, while the first editor of the British language newspaper Dawn was Pothan Joseph, a Christian man appointed by the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
But by the 1970s the hard-line Islamist agenda being asserted in Pakistan started to shift attitudes, gathering speed in the 1980s under the military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq who introduced a series of regressive laws in the name of “Islamisation”.
Today, Pakistan’s Christians are amongst the most persecuted in the world, living under constant fear of the country’s strict anti-blasphemy laws, which are often abused to settle scores and attack minority groups.
Although the country’s Christians are free to meet, they are monitored and services are sometimes attacked. In March of this year 14 people were killed, two of them children, and more than 70 injured when bombs detonated in two churches in Lahore. A group affiliated with the Taliban, calling itself Jamatul Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Many of the country’s 5.2 million Christians have already fled to countries including Canada, Britain and the US; many more hope to leave the country.