The Islamic State has carried out a string of lethal terrorist attacks in the Pakistani city of Quetta, targeting the Christian minority and forcing many to flee.
So far this month, jihadist militants have killed six Christians in two gun attacks in Quetta, after having bombed a Christian church in the city last December.
Islamic radicals fired upon a group of Christians traveling by rickshaw on Easter Monday, April 2, killing four. On April 15, four armed Islamist militants on motorcycles opened fire on Christians as they left church services in the Christian neighborhood of Isa Nagri, killing two and wounding three more.
Just before last Christmas, at least ten Christians died in the Islamic State double suicide bombing of Quetta’s Bethel Memorial Methodist Church, in which scores more were wounded.
The pastor of the church, Simon Bashir, who was leading a service at the time of the attack, said the violence has left his flock “afraid and concerned about their security.”
Locals now say that that many in Quetta’s Christian community of 50,000 are fleeing the city in the wake of the attacks, abandoning homes where they had lived for generations and resettling elsewhere.
“We have been living for centuries in Quetta but due to targeted killings of the Christian community, I have lost nine of my family members and friends,” one Christian told The Telegraph.
“Many of our relatives shifted to Karachi and we will also leave Quetta due to the deteriorating security situation,” he said. “We will rebuild our lives and establish our business in some other peaceful city, which is really a difficult task. Leaving home town is quite tough but we have no other option.”
While human rights groups and church leaders have condemned the attacks, so far no one has been brought to justice. Following the April 15 attack, the National Commission for Justice and Peace urged the state to provide security to all the citizens regardless of their faith.
In a statement, the Commission’s executive director, Cecil Shane Chaudhry, said that the government must “immediately take serious notice of this dangerous trend emerging and properly inquire all these incidents and formulate an independent inquiry commission.”
“These incidents show the inability of national action plan to counter extremism and intolerance. Government must ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are brought to justice,” he said.
Christians make up a small minority of less than two percent of Pakistan’s population of 207 million, and frequently suffer persecution from the Muslim majority, including criminal accusations under the country’s strict blasphemy law.
According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense, terrorism has claimed over 60,000 victims in Pakistan since 2000, many of which have been perpetrated against religious minorities.
The Islamic State has established an important foothold in Pakistan, primarily by recruiting Islamist militants from Pakistan’s Sunni Muslim majority, adding to the already dire situation for many Christians.
In its most recent annual report (2017), the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for its “particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”
Religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country’s blasphemy laws, “continue to result in prosecutions and imprisonments,” the report found, with at least “40 individuals have been sentenced to death or are serving life sentences for blasphemy.”
Religious minority communities also experience “religiously motivated and sectarian violence from both terrorist organizations and individuals within society,” it declared.
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