Family members mourn near the coffin of a relative who was killed in a blast outside a public park
in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

By John Martin

At least 69 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the Pakistan city of Lahore in a bomb attack aimed at Christians enjoying an Easter outing. A further 340 were wounded, and 25 were in serious condition.

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The attack happened on Easter evening in a busy park in the city that is the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters news agency quoted Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claiming responsibility for the attack and issuing a direct challenge to the government.

“The target was Christians,” said a faction spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.”

It is the deadliest attack on Christians in Pakistan since a bomb attack killed 134 schoolchildren in the northern city of Peshawar in December 2014.

The group has claimed responsibility for several large attacks after it split with the main Pakistani Taliban in 2014. It declared allegiance to the Islamic State but later said it was rejoining the Pakistani Taliban insurgency.

Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Christians account for only 1.6 percent of the population. Karachi has a large Christian population and many Christian villages surround it. The area that is now Pakistan was much more diverse before partition in 1947, but there is now much less tolerance and the country is becoming much more Islamic. Before partition minorities made up 15 percent of the population. Now they are less than 4 percent.

Christians often fall victim to blasphemy allegations. The country’s draconian blasphemy laws, which prescribe the death penalty, are often used as a pretext in local disputes about land and property.

Most of Pakistan’s Christians descended from low-caste Hindus who left their original faith, often as a way to escape India’s unjust caste system. Most of them are the poorest of Pakistan’s poor, working in menial jobs.

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