(Photo: Reuters/Fayaz Aziz)
The deadliest attack on Christians ever on Pakistani soil that left 83 people dead on Sunday has been condemned by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which warned that words will not be enough to stop the violence against religious minorities in the Islamic nation.
"Mere words will not do. The government of Newaz Sharif must take robust measures to end violence against Christians and other religious minorities and the cycle of impunity that plagues Pakistan. Arrests and prosecutions will send a powerful message that the government takes seriously its responsibility to protect citizens of all faiths," USCIRF chairman Robert George said in a statement.
Two suicide blasts on Sunday left 83 people dead and over 150 wounded at the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack occurred when over 400 worshipers were leaving church services, with a faction of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claiming responsibility.
"(The Christians) are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land," the group apparently told Reuters.
As many as 96.4 percent of the Pakistani population are Muslims, according to CIA statistics, with Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities making up 3.6 percent. Pakistan also came in at 14th place on Open Doors USA's World Watch List of countries that persecute Christians.
"Many Christians are uneducated manual workers who suffer unfair treatment from employers. Muslim men continue to sexually assault underage Christian girls. Opening a new church building is virtually impossible and emigration of Christians continues," Open Doors writes about some of the problems facing believers.
USCIRF's 2013 Annual Report argued that the South Asian country "represents the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries that the U.S. government does not currently designate as 'countries of particular concern.'" The report points out that religious freedom violations in Pakistan are at an all-time high, and the government is failing to protect Christians, Shi'a, Ahmadis, and Hindus.
"Especially given this violence, it is long past time for the U.S. to designate Pakistan as a 'country of particular concern'" George continued.
The All Saints Church that suffered the attacks is part of the Anglican Communion and a member church of the World Methodist Council, while the Peshawar community has close to 70,000 Christians, reports have said. Following the incident, Christian protests took place across the country to demand protection from the government.
"Terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions," Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement. "Cruel acts of terrorism reflect the brutality and inhumane mindset of the terrorists."