World and Nation

Pakistan Christians demand protection after church bombing

LONDON — With its Muslim-style minarets topped by a large black cross, the All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, has for more than a century offered a daring architectural expression of Muslim-Christian harmony and cohabitation.

This is how the Taliban destroyed it: two suicide bombers rushed the church doors as worshipers streamed out on Sunday. One attacker exploded his vest inside, the other just outside.

The death toll had risen to 85 by Monday evening, when Christians across the country protested the worst atrocity their community has suffered in Pakistan’s history.

Crowds blocked roads, burned tires and waved wooden crosses as they marched in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar.

Many shouted demands for government protection, while also voicing skepticism about whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government could stave off future attacks. Mission schools announced that they would close for three days.

For government critics, the atrocity highlighted the continuing failure of the state to protect minorities against hate attacks. Hundreds of Shiites, in particular, have been killed in devastating attacks over the past year.

But it also further roiled a debate about a recent political decision to start peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, billed as an attempt to stem the bloodshed.

“Pakistan’s politicians are failing at the most basic of questions — about what kind of Pakistan they want to shape and lead,” said Cyril Almeida, a writer with Dawn newspaper. “Whether out of sympathy, fear or cowardice, no one is willing to stand up to radical Islamists and say, ‘No, enough is enough, we are taking our country back.’”

Christians in Pakistan already contend with deep-rooted prejudice. Most are poor and traditionally carry out menial work like sweeping street garbage and cleaning sewers. Muslim mobs, enraged by rumors of blasphemy, occasionally rampage through Christian slums, and have burned hundreds of houses. Extremists killed the Christian minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in early 2011.

Still, Sunday’s attack touched a raw nerve across sectarian lines. Clerical organizations and all major political parties issued statements of condemnation. On Monday, Parliament passed a resolution condemning the bombing as “an attack on Pakistan.”

Perhaps the sharpest political fallout has been felt by Imran Khan, the former cricket star who has long urged a truce with the Taliban and whose political party runs Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where the bombing took place.

On Sunday, Khan, who is more used to adulation at his public appearances, was jeered by Christians with cries of “shame” and “Imran is a dog” when he arrived at a Peshawar hospital where victims were being treated.