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Sunday, 28 October, 2001, 14:06 GMT
Analysis: Pakistan's Christian minority
Police outside a church in Pakistan
Violence against Christians is rare
By the BBC's Fiona Werge

Muslims and Christians have co-existed relatively peacefully in Pakistan since independence in 1947.

While the country was set up as a Muslim state, a small minority of Christians, converted by missionaries in the colonial era, established communities near the cities of Lahore and Rawalpindi and particularly in the country's biggest province, Punjab.

Tension in Pakistan because of the bombing raids on Afghanistan may be the spark igniting long-suppressed antagonisms and jealousies

These communities integrated successfully into society. But the increasing amount of land owned by Christians, particularly the Catholic church itself, later became a source of tension.

This reached a head in the 1970s under the rule of former military dictator General Zia ul-Haq.

Blasphemy laws

An increasing conservatism in the country led to the introduction of blasphemy laws, frequently used against Christians, although convictions were rare.

The laws were seen by many as a way of dislodging Christian landowners from highly prized rural assets.

But while churches have been set on fire on rare occasions in the past, there has been no record of religiously-inspired violence against Christians until now.

It may be no coincidence that these killings have taken place in a rural, richly productive, cotton producing area.

The ratcheting up of tension in Pakistan because of the bombing raids on Afghanistan may be the spark igniting long-suppressed antagonisms and jealousies.

See also:

12 Oct 00 | South Asia
Pakistan: Still out in the cold?
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Profile: General Pervez Musharraf
13 Mar 01 | South Asia
Gunmen attack Pakistan mosque
05 Apr 01 | South Asia
Thousands mourn in Pakistan
28 Feb 01 | South Asia
Clashes follow Pakistani execution
12 Apr 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's religious rift
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