On Sunday evening, a public park in the Pakistani city of Lahore was struck by a bombing, killing at least 60 people and injuring at least 300. The victims, according to preliminary reports, were mostly women and children. Haider Ashraf, a Lahore police official, told the New York Times that the blast was caused by a suicide bomber, who detonated the explosives in the parking lot of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. The attack coincided with Christian celebrations of Easter, suggesting that the bomber was targeting crowds celebrating the holiday. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an affiliate of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to eyewitnesses who spoke to Dawn, the park was poorly secured. “The park is huge and has many entrance gates. There were almost no security personnel present there,” one eyewitness remarked. The lack of security is particularly notable given that Pakistan’s Christian community has come under attack regularly from Deobandi militant groups. Given the occasion of Easter and the expectation that crowds would be larger than normal, the lack of heightened security is under scrutiny..
Jamaat ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for similar mass casualty attacks in public places and has specifically targeted Christians in the past. Last year, the group injured more than 70 people and killed 14 with twin bomb blasts in a Christian neighborhood in Lahore. The bombers in that attack targeted St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church in the city. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was also responsible for several attacks in 2014, including a November attack in Karachi on a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) membership camp and another suicide attack that same month at Wagah, a city along the border with India.
Sunday’s attack additionally comes in the wake of generally heightened tensions in Pakistan followed the February 29 execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged for killing Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who’d supported changes to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Qadri’s supporters were out in the streets across the country on Sunday. As Michael Kugelman noted recently in The Diplomat, the Pakistani government’s decision to hang a man “who was revered by the radicalized elements of society” was “no small matter.”
In the aftermath of the Lahore attack, Pakistan’s 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to fight domestic terrorism will come under additional scrutiny. The plan, which was put in place after a particularly horrific terror attack against schoolchildren at Peshawar’s Army Public School, outlined steps that Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies would undertake to prevent similar incidents around the country. Sunday’s attack in Lahore and recent attacks elsewhere in the country show that the government will need to do far more in its endeavor to stop domestic terror attacks.