Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Christians: The Precarious Position of a Minority Community

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Christians: The Precarious Position of a Minority Community

Article excerpt

The suicide bombing Sunday in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, along with published comments attributed to the militant Muslim group that claimed to carry it out, have served to grimly underscore the precarious position of Pakistan's Christians.

At least 70 people were killed in the Easter attack, mostly women and children.

Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a breakaway Taliban faction in Pakistan, said the attack specifically targeted Christians.

"It's our message to the government that we will carry out such attacks again until sharia [Islamic law] is imposed in the country," he told the Washington Post in a phone interview.

The following is a primer on Pakistan's minority Christian community:

How many Christians live in Pakistan?Pakistan is a majority- Muslim country of 190 million people. Christians are the second- largest minority group after Hindus. They make up about 1.6 percent of the total population - or more than 2 million people - but skeptics argue that the government deliberately undercounts their numbers. Some say Christians make up closer to 5 percent of the population.

Christians are concentrated in the southern metropolis of Karachi and in countless villages and cities in the Punjab heartland, including Lahore and Faisalabad. There are also sizable Christian communities in the deeply conservative northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

What's their history in the country?Roman Catholic missionaries first arrived in South Asia from Europe in the late 1600s. Most Christians in Pakistan are the descendants of low-caste Hindus who had converted during the years of British rule, in part to escape the caste system. Many provided labor in garrison towns.

Yet even today the majority of Christians remain in the most marginalized sector of society, reports the BBC. While some have risen to become government officials or run businesses, the poorest work the country's worst jobs, as toilet cleaners and street sweepers. Entire villages in parts of Punjab are made up of Christian laborers and farmhands.

Has the intolerance always been this high? …

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