Half a world away from Belgium, terror and death have hit another American ally and where the stakes are even higher. This time, the target was Pakistan — a suicide bomb ripping through a Christian Easter celebration in the heart of Lahore, capital city of the Punjab, killing scores, wounding hundreds. It was a powerful and direct message to Pakistan, which unlike Belgium, likely has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal.
The message to the nation’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from a faction of the Pakistani Talban, who quickly claimed responsibility for the attack in his home base of Lahore, was simple and direct. “He can do what he wants, but he will not stop us,” said Ehsanullah Ehsan. a group spokesman.
It was as clear evidence as possible that the Taliban is determined to destabilize, even topple the government or nudge it away from its pro-American position into one more favorable to the radicals’ toxic agenda. The 20 pounds of explosives packed around quantities of ball bearings were designed to maximize the lethal footprint of the blast. And the fact that it took place Southeast of Islamabad, far from Taliban strongholds along the Afghan frontier suggests its ability to work its will as it pleases.
The danger for America is that such a move comes against a background of deeply troubling activity in a region that itself is teetering on the brink of profound unrest. It was, after all, in Pakistan, where an American Navy SEAL team located and terminated Osama bin Laden. It is also Pakistan where the Taliban and other tribal forces maintain their back offices and arms depots for their immediate aim of overthrowing the American-backed regime in neighboring Afghanistan.
They are waiting — for the American withdrawal and at the same time for a more accomodating attitude among the leadership of Pakistan toward their wants and needs.
The danger is that such wants and needs could extend into the arsenal of nuclear arms that Pakistan is expanding at breakneck sped. Already, its nuclear stockpile has passed neighboring India’s — 120 to 100 in terms of deployed warheads. This is a fraction of the numbers maintained by the United States and Russia. But at its current pace, Pakistan’s arsenal could balloon to 350 in the next decade — placing it third in the world, ahead of China, Britain or France. According to the Carnegie Endowment, Pakistan has enough highly enriched uranium to continue the buildup all but unchecked.
“The growth path of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, enabled by existing infrastructure, goes well beyond the assurances of credible minimal deterrence provided by Pakistani officials and analysts after testing nuclear devices,” the report concludes.
That leaves some frightening potential. Most of the new weapons are “low yield,” effectively tactical nuclear weapons, easily deployed — to vast and lethal effect — on isolated battlefields. Or, for that matter, carried in a suitcase into the heart of a city. Indeed, the Carnegie report does raise directly the prospects of “a risky strategy that would place weapons that are the least safe and secure close to the forward edge of battle — a battle that could be triggered by actions taken by extremist groups.”
This must be at least one aim of a multi-pronged campaign by the Taliban, with Sunday’s massacre only the latest skirmish. But it is clearly an aim that should have Washington deeply worried. A suggestion of the depth of this concern was the statement, issued immediately after news reached the White House. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price suggested, “We will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region, as together we will be unyielding in our efforts to root out the scourge of terrorism.”
Just how effective such an effort might be should become a central focus in the calculus of when and in what fashion to pull American forces out of Afghanistan and leave a nuclear armed-up region to its own devices.
Most of the victims of the bomb attack at a park in the eastern city of Lahore on Sunday evening were women and children enjoying an Easter weekend outing.
“We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage inhumans to over-run our life and liberty,” military spokesman Asim Bajwa said in a post on Twitter.
Pakistan has been plagued by militant violence for the last 15 years, since it joined a U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy after the Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, and issued a direct challenge to the government.
“The target was Christians,” said a faction spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said.
“We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.”
The group has claimed responsibility for several big 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 Taliban insurgency.
While the army, police, government and Western interests have been the prime targets of the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, Christians and other religious minorities have also attacked.
Nearly 80 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2013.
The security forces have killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under a major crackdown launched after Taliban gunmen massacred 134 children at a military-run school in Peshawar in December 2014.
Lahore is the capital of Pakistan’s richest province, Punjab, and is widely seen as the political heartland of Sharif and his ruling party.
Sharif’s office condemned the blast as a cowardly act and said a response had been ordered, without elaborating.
Pakistan’s security agencies have long been accused of nurturing some militants to use for help in pursuing security objectives in Afghanistan and against old rival India.
Sharif’s opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peac
e in his province, a charge he strongly denies.
(Reporting by Asad hashim; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
The resolution passed the House with a unanimous vote of 383-0.
The resolution came to a vote just days after the release of a graphic new report by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians on ISIS’ atrocities. The report made the case that the terror campaign against Christians and other minorities in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East is, in fact, genocide.
“When ISIS systematically targets Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities for extermination, this is not only a grave injustice—it is a threat to civilization itself,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said in a statement. “We must call the violence by its proper name: genocide.”
The resolution was voted on ahead of a congressionally mandated March 17 deadline for Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House to make a decision on whether to make such a declaration. The measure is an effort to force the administration’s hand on the issue, as the administration has so far declined to take an official position.
There is a similar measure in the Senate that has yet to be voted on.
“Christians, Yezidis, and other beleaguered minority groups can find new hope in this trans-partisan and ecumenical alliance against ISIS’ barbaric onslaught,” Fortenberry, who is co-chairman of the Religious Minorities of the Middle East Caucus and represents America’s largest Yezidi community, said in the statement.
The measure also received the backing of House Republican leadership, with Speaker Paul Ryan calling on the Obama administration to take action in light of recent attacks against Christians.
“Last week, ISIS militants killed 16 people, including four Catholic nuns, at a retirement home in southern Yemen,” Ryan said in a statement Monday. “This is the latest in a string of brutal attacks committed by ISIS against Christian and other minorities. Yet the administration has still not called this what it is: A genocide.”
“We want to label what this is so this never happens and should not happen, and someone has to stand up,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer Monday.
It is rare for Congress to make a genocide determination.
In addition to the genocide resolution, the House also voted on a measure to create an international tribune to try ISIS members accused of atrocities.
The measure passed in a vote of 392 to 3. The no votes came from Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich, Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.
At least three presidential candidates — Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on the Republican side, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side — have called on the administration to designate ISIS atrocities against Christians as genocide.
When asked on March 1 why the administration has yet to make the determination, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the word genocide “involves a very specific legal determination that has, at this point, not been reached.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday he did not expect any resolution voted on in the House to be a factor in the decision.
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Rights activists say Christian women and girls in Pakistan are facing a wave of terror that has already claimed at least one life and injured two others this year alone.
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) says the terror has included a January 13 deadly incident in the city of Lahore where three young Christian girls, identified as Kiran, 17, Shamroza, 18, and Sumble, 20, were approached at night while walking home by four allegedly drunk Muslim men in a car.
Because the girls refused their sexual advances the men became enraged to the point that the driver targeted them with the car, according to investigators. Kiran died after she landed on the hood of the car, which had increased in speed before coming to an abrupt halt. Christians said the teen was catapulted through the air before falling to the ground.
The two other women received severe injuries and broken bones, rights activists said.
“Women have a low status in Pakistan, but none more so than Christian women who find themselves under the grip or terror, especially after this attack.” added Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA. “Evidence exists that some rogue imams declare that such acts of conversion through violence are rewarded in heaven, what a terrifying thought.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. Last year in November, American Center for Law and Justice affiliated group Organization for Legal Aid in Pakistan, reportedly prepared charges in the case of an 8-year-old Christian girl who was beaten and left naked on the streets by a Muslim family that wanted to punish her uncle for an interreligious relationship.
BPCA says it has started a petition for victims like Kiran, and set up a donations fund where people can financially contribute to the work that goes into helping Christian families.
“This act of violence should be met with the strong arm of the law. In any other nation the perpetrators would be arrested, convicted for murder and sentenced for a long term. In Pakistan, however, the poor go to prison and the wealthy commit whatever crime they wish with impunity. Violence against Christians is rarely investigated and highly unlikely to be met with justice,” Chowdhry complained.
Additionally the BCPA says it has written to the British Embassy and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, both in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, urging them to give a persecuted Christian mother of three a humanitarian visa and “allow her safety in the West”.
Fouzia Sadiq, 30, was allegedly abducted by a Muslim man who forced her to marry him and “convert” to Islam following an impromptu request for cleaning services at his home on July 23 2015. “Two days ago Fouzia Sadiq with the help of her brother Paris, was able to escape the clutches of Muhammed Nazir, 60, who had tortured, raped and subjected her to a life of personal servitude.”
BosNewsLife published the names of the victim and suspect as they were already publicly identified.
At least 700 Christian women and girls in Pakistan are abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year – almost two a day, according to Christian rights groups.
Some of them have been accused of blasphemy against Islam, including Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been on death row for nearly six years and faces execution by hanging under the country’s controversial blasphemy legislation.
Advocacy and aid group Open Doors says these and other incidents contributed to its decision to place the Asian nation number 8 on its annual World Watch List of 50 countries where it says Christians face severe persecution.