Observers are questioning whether Pakistani leaders are doing enough to smooth sectarian tensions, after a suicide bombing targeting Christians celebrating Easter killed nearly 70 people in Lahore.
Sunday's attack at a local park was the third this month, according to The New York Times, and the latest in a series of violent incidents affecting the country's religious minorities.
Violence against minority groups "is so deeply embedded within the political and social processes in Pakistan," said Umair Javed, a columnist for a Pakistani newspaper and expert on Lahore, to Slate. "It (is) very difficult for a state that has very limited capacity in the first place to actually police what we would call cultural dominance or social discrimination that happens at more of an everyday level."
Christians comprise around 1.5 percent of Pakistan's population, and they've had a presence in the region since the 17th century, according to The Washington Post.
"Although most Christians and Muslims still coexist without incident, there has been a growing sense of concern among Pakistan's Christian community, with many deciding to emigrate," the article noted. "In particular, Pakistan's strict blasphemy law — which restricts any insults against the Islamic prophet Muhammad and makes the crime punishable by death — is viewed by many activists as being abused to target religious minorities," including Christians, Hindus and members of smaller Islamic sects, the Shias and Ahmadis.
Before Sunday's bombing, Christians suffered through church bombings in 2015 and 2013 and repeated incidents of arson in 2009 and 2005, BBC News reported.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has designated Pakistan as a "country of particular concern" since 2002, due to the government's "failure to intervene against violence" targeting religious minorities, USCIRF reported in 2015.
The organization's summary of Pakistan's religious freedom violations include references to its blasphemy laws, incidents of forced conversion to Islam and an education system that supports violence against enemies of Islam.
USCIRF also highlighted some of the government's efforts to improve the religious climate, such as initiating a program targeted at stopping the Pakistani Taliban. A faction of the militant group claimed credit for Sunday's bombing, the Associated Press reported.
Javed, speaking with Slate, echoed USCIRF's report, pointing to policy changes that could lead to a reduction of violence against Christians, while also noting that bigger changes will be needed to bring peace to the country.
"On Sunday you do see policemen guarding churches. The Christian community has also created a security volunteer network from among the Christian youth in the city," he said.
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