The mob violence against Christians in central Pakistan at the weekend appears to have hit a particularly raw nerve in a country already jittery about the spreading influence of Islamist militants. The deaths of eight Christians in the town of Gojra following unsubstantiated allegations that a Christian had desecrated the Koran has both revived debate about Pakistan's blasphemy laws and renewed worries about the potential for instability in its heartland Punjab province.
According to Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, the violence may have been orchestrated by the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an outlawed pro-Taliban Sunni Muslim sectarian group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). He said that masked men had come from the nearby district of Jhang, birthplace of both SSP and LeJ, to incite the anti-Christian rioting, and that the government had received an intelligence report two months ago suggesting that militants were switching from suicide bombings to inciting sectarian strife.
Dawn newspaper called in an editorial for the repeal of blasphemy laws imposing severe punishment on those accused of insulting Islam.
"These laws have become a ticket in the hands of the majority to persecute and victimise the minority communities if they don’t easily submit to their inferior status in society," it said. "In not being blind to the faith of each individual, the state is supporting bias and bigotry against non-Muslims. The narrow-minded who spew venom through their sermons against religious minorities are only the loudest and most abominable symbols of such discrimination and their growing following is an unmistakable sign of the frightening future that we are heading towards."