“People across the world are holding Christmas parties, and we are having to bury our dead,” said a prominent minority rights activist in Pakistan
By Sheraz Khan, South Asia Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
QUETTA, BALUCHISTAN PAKISTAN (ANS — December 18, 2017) — At least nine worshippers were killed and more than 50 wounded on Sunday, the 17th of December, after two suicide bombers attacked a pre-Christmas church service in Quetta, the capital of the province of Baluchistan, in Pakistan.
ANS has learnt from multiple sources that hundreds of worshippers were attending a service at the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church, just under a week before Christmas.
According to media reports the attackers clashed with security forces. The reports say the security forces killed one assailant at the entrance of the church, however, the other assailant managed to enter the church building.
The Guardian quoted the Baluchistan police chief, Moazzam Ansari, as praising the response of security forces standing guard at the church, stating that the attacker who made to the church was wounded otherwise the death toll could have been much higher.
Pakistani TV footages showed ambulances and security patrols rushing to the scene while women and children were being assisted to exit from the church’s main gate.
In a brief statement, the ISIS terror group has claimed responsibility for the deadly church attack.
Pakistan’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leader, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, wrote on Twitter: “Deeply saddened on the loss of precious lives in Quetta attack. This is not what Pakistan should be known for. All worship places are sacred.
“Heartfelt prayers for the injured and bereaved families of Quetta blast. Sad day for Pakistan indeed,” she added.
ANS talked to Pakistani Christian and Muslim leaders who, whilst condemning the attack, have expressed solidary with the families and relatives of the people who have lost their lives in the blast.
Saleem Khurshid Khokhar, founder of Minority Inqlabi Tehreek Pakistan (Minority Revolutionary Movement Pakistan), and former member of provincial assembly in Sindh, said the attack on the church in Quetta was regrettable. He stated that it had struck fear among Christians in Baluchistan, and across Pakistan.
Khokhar alleged that the attack was a failure of the provincial government. He demanded of the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan, to beef up security outside all churches and other religious minorities’ places of worship in Pakistan.
Khokhar went on to say that the government of Pakistan should announce at least ten hundred thousand Pakistani rupees for each person who lost their lives in the church attack.
“The injured should be given proper medical treatment,” he added.
Asked if moderate leaders in Pakistan have come forward to condemn the church attack Khokhar stated that liberal mindset has long had its demise. “The so-called liberal elements are actually working to ascend to the positions of power,” he alleged.
Condemning soaring religious intolerance in Pakistan, Khokhar called for “unity, peace and tolerance” in Pakistan.
Khokhar was critical of serving lawmakers in Pakistan, saying, “Serving minority lawmakers are attempting to appease minority constituents by merely making statements and by selling them dreams. The sad reality is this that they have failed to protect, promote and safeguard minority interests.”
The former lawmaker stated that Pakistani minorities live in perpetual fear, claiming that their rights are being violated. “They have been diminished to second class citizens,” Khokhar said of Pakistani minorities.
“The Christians of Pakistan are from amongst the very poor people in Pakistan and any attack on them or on their places of worships deepens sense of insecurity in them,” remarked Khokhar.
An outraged Khokhar equated the killings in the past and present church attacks to the “genocide of Christians.”
Khalid Gill, Chairman of the Minority Revolutionary Frontier Movement, who arrived in Pakistan from Canada on December 9, 2017, to initiate a country-wide minority movement, told ANS that attacks on churches, injustices against minorities, incidents of sexual harassment and discrimination against minority citizens, had become the norm.
Qualifying his statement, Gill referred to the 2003 attack on a church in Chianwali village, in the district of Sialkot, of Punjab province; the 2005 Sanglahill church attack in province Punjab of Pakistan; and the 2009 tragic incident in the same province, when seven Christians were burnt alive over rumors that Christians had committed blasphemy.
Gill stated: “The Christians across Pakistan are appallingly shocked in the wake of the attack on the Methodist church in Quetta. People are outraged. There is a sense of betrayal amongst religious minorities in Pakistan. They feel their contribution to the nation is not recognized.”
He went on to say that he would address a press conference in the near future, during which he would not only identify problems facing Pakistani Christians, and other religious minorities, but would also give recommendations to the government for improving minority rights.
Iqbal Sandhu, Information Secretary of the UK branch of the ruling PML-N, condemned the attack on Christian worshippers in Quetta. He stated the PML-N government is committed to protecting lives and properties of all Pakistani citizens including religious minorities who he stated are equal citizens of Pakistan.
“PML-N envisions a progressive Pakistan where minority citizens are respected as equal citizens of the state,” he said.
Sandhu claimed that federal and provincial governments of Pakistan will ensure fool-proof security outside all places of worship for religious minorities in Pakistan.
Shamaun Alfred Gill, a prominent minority rights activist in Pakistan, vehemently condemned Quetta church attack stating that it, yet again, had shown that the Pakistani authorities have failed to protect the lives of its minority citizens.
“I have been talking to Christians across Pakistan following Quetta church attack. Christians across Pakistan are deeply concerned about their security,” said Gill. “They do not feel government is doing enough to ensure their protection.”
Pakistani Christians, he added, have been denigrated to “second-class citizens,” and will continue to live in fear for some time following the Quetta church attack.
“People across the world are holding Christmas parties and we are having to bury our dead,” said Gill, drawing a stark comparison between the grim situation in Pakistan following the attack and the commencement of festivities in the west in the run up to Christmas.
Referring to the All Saints Church attack in Peshawar in September, 2013, Gill stated that the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Tasadaq Hussain Jilani, in his judgement following the attack had ordered the formation of Minority Protection Commission. According to the judgement, he said, the government was supposed to provide special security to all places of worship.
Gill believes that the formation of the commission would have led to a decrease in terrorist attacks on minorities.
“Pakistani Christians are under attack,” he said. “In the face of continuing incidents of terrorism in Pakistan, the government and military’s claims of defeating terrorism are not plausible,” said Gill.
Criticizing ruling PML-N government he said that they had not even done one thing that would give relief to religious minorities in Pakistan.
Gill demanded that Christian lawmakers in the provincial assemblies, national assembly and the Senate, should table a condemnation resolution against Quetta church attack.
Mrs. Nawadar Khan, President of UK branch of ruling PML-N stated: “We as a nation are standing with the grief of our people in Quetta, and their blood and sacrifice will not go to waste. We are sending a strong notion to the world that Pakistan stands against terrorism and will fight against it for the peace of our people.”
The former Bishop of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Dr. Ijaz Inayat, whilst condemning the Quetta church attack, stated that the eradication of culture of corruption in Pakistan would also help improve efficiency of security services.
Asked to elaborate, he stated that “corruption is endemic” in Pakistan. Police and security services personnel take bribes, and make easy money and therefore fail to discharge their duty, he alleged.
Dr. Inayat stated that Christians across Pakistan should forge unity in their ranks. “Christians cannot advance their interests if they do not get united,” he remarked.
Alluding to attacks on Christians’ lives and properties in the past, the former bishop underlined the need for learning from past experiences.
Dr. Inayat went on to say that there are about 57 electoral constituencies in Pakistan where polling of the Christian votes determines success or failure of the candidates, and he alleged that western governments were more interested in advancing their national interests instead of using their influence on the Pakistani government with respect to promoting minority rights.
“If the governments of G-8 countries use their influence on Pakistan for the amelioration of minority rights situation then there will be a favourable outcome,” he hoped.
Aamir Haroon of the UK branch of ruling PML-N minority wing stated: “We condemn attack on Christian worshippers in Quetta. This is a cowardly act.
“The minority wing UK stands in solidarity with Christians of Quetta and across Pakistan. The PML-N government has a firm commitment towards promotion of minority rights,” he said.
Haroon added: “We recognise Christians and other religious minorities’ contribution in the creation of Pakistan as well as their crucial services in all sectors especially in the fields of health and education.”
Also condemning Quetta church attack, the Rev Peter Gill of the Wallneuk Church, Paisley, Scotland, stated that the attack may have been in reaction to U.S. president Donald Trump’s statement of recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel.
“Christians in Pakistan are now apprehensive of going to churches. They are uncertain whether or not they should go to churches,” said Gill, depicting the profound sense of insecurity the latest church attack has engendered among the Christian minority in Pakistan.
Gill stated that Christians are no stranger to persecution. No matter how extreme is the persecution, Christians should not retaliate and instead launch a peaceful struggle for their rights.
He urged minority lawmakers in Pakistan to ensure that the lives and properties of all minority citizens are protected.
Silk Lodhi, Vice President of the UK women branch of PML-N said: “The attack in Quetta is just one prime example of the need for a clear plan and focus to strategically resolve the involvement of ISIS and any other extremism organizations.
“The lives of our civilians here and across the world are equally valuable regardless of faith or sect and such a culture of apartheid is rejected at all levels. The nation stands united against the threats it faces and is optimistic for a better future”, stated Ms. Lodhi.
Commenting on Quetta church attack, Gul Irfan Khan, a Pakistani Christian evangelist, who lives in the Netherlands, stated that the Pakistani government had failed to protect the lives of its minority citizens.
Khan stressed the need for making amendments in the Pakistani curriculum, saying, “The authorities there should include material that could help promote peace, tolerance and understanding for all religions.”
Naila Nazir Gill, Chairperson of Helpway Pakistan, stated that she was shocked to learn about the attack on the Methodist church in Quetta. She went on to say that Christian women who are already marginalized would now be fearful of attending church services.
Mrs. Gill demanded that reserved seats for minority women should be increased to allow them to play their role in Pakistani politics.
Commenting on the role of minority lawmakers she alleged that they are not working to promote rights of minority people. “They [the minority lawmakers] are rather expending their energies to appease their masters, who have selected them,” alleged Mrs Gill.
Former member of the Punjab provincial assembly, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, who chairs the Pakistan Minorities Alliance, also condemned Quetta church attack.
Asher Sarfraz, Chief Executive of Christian True Spirit, stated the Quetta church attack may have been a reaction of U.S. President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel.
Sarfraz expressed concerned over the growing hold of religious conservatives in Pakistan, stating that government should take “stern action” against elements who use Islam to advance their negative agendas.
Sarfraz stated that western governments should stop aid for minority causes until Pakistan improves it minority rights’ situation.
Photo captions: 1) A family fleeing the church after the attack. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters). 2) The main hall of the church following the attack. (A. Calvin (AFP). 3) Pakistani Christians demand better protection for churches after the deadly attack. 4) Maryam Nawaz Sharif. 5) Iqbal Sandhu. 6) Khalid Gill. 7) Aamir Haroon. 8) Pakistani mourners attend the funeral of the victims of Sunday’s suicide bombing attack on a church, in Quetta, Pakistan, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. 8) Sheraz Khan.
About the writer: Sheraz Khan is a Pakistani-British journalist. He lives in Scotland and can be contacted by e-mail: email@example.com
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