Yet again, churches have been bombed in Pakistan, and though the Pope has spoken of his sadness at the event, on the whole it has passed most of the world by. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious of which is that this is the sort of story that we are accustomed to seeing come out of Pakistan. Fourteen people murdered, scores maimed in a sectarian bombing? In Pakistan that is not news, that is normal. Pakistan, people will say, is on the way to becoming a failed state. After all, if the state exists to protect its citizens, all of them, whatever their religion, the state of Pakistan is failing. Indeed it may have already failed, and our usual diagnosis of it being a failing state may well be hopelessly over-optimistic.
Quite a lot of people who know Pakistan – VS Naipaul comes to mind – see it as a failed state already, an experiment gone terribly wrong; I have heard this view too from several Indian friends of mine. What we see now, they think, is the grim reaping of what was sown when India was partitioned in 1947. They add that the Pakistani Christians are paying the price for not emigrating to India at Partition. The tragedy of modern Pakistan is compounded by the fact that the country has long been a British and American protégé, and a major aid recipient. Are we pouring all that money into the south Asian equivalent of Somalia?
If these bombing show up the Pakistani state as weak and defenceless in the face of terror, they also show us something else, namely that the Taliban has not gone out of business, but are very much still here. Perhaps the Taliban simply want to remind us that ISIS is not the only game in town. Perhaps this is their attempt to try and seize back the standard from the Caliph?
Something else is at work too. The Christians of Pakistan are a tiny minority, but at the same time they are, given the size of the population, quite numerous, estimated at 2.5 million. This makes them a visible minority, an easy target for bombers and of course, let us not forget, thanks to the blasphemy laws, the object of state-sponsored persecution.
One has to ask: why can’t an avowedly Muslim state, founded by Muslims for Muslims, simply leave its Christian population alone? One ought to remember too that Christianity predates Islam in south Asia by many centuries. What is the problem for the Muslims of Pakistan? Have they got a problem with the concept of tolerance?
Another awful fact is that there are several pro-Taliban groups active in Britain today and quite a few Taliban apologists; nor are the Taliban a small or isolated group. They are well funded, and have widespread support. They represent a significant strand of opinion in the Muslim world, inside Pakistan and outside it too. The usual platitudes are demonstrably false: this is the work of a small group who represent no one, blah blah blah. We need to take this seriously. After all the Taliban would blow up churches all over the world, if they could. They can’t, of course, but that should not make us complacent.