The majority of victims of sectarian violence were Shia Muslims (File photo: Asianet-Pakistan)
A newly-released US report has painted a grim picture of the deteriorating conditions of religious minorities in Pakistan.
It shows that while Christians and other groups are increasingly being targeted, it is mostly Shia Muslims who bear the brunt of violence and suicide attacks, mostly from religious militants and terrorist organizations.
The report, compiled by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, tracked 18 months of public information on attacks against religious communities in Pakistan.
During the January 2012-June 2013 period, there were 203 publicly reported incidents of sectarian violence resulting in more than 1,800 casualties, including over 700 deaths.
The majority of those, 77, were leveled against Shias, leading to 635 deaths; virtually the whole of the total of fatalities. Ahmadis are the second most targeted group, with 54 attacks, followed by Christians with 37.
But attacks against those two groups were much less deadly, leading to 22 and 11 deaths respectively.
While Shias and Ahmadis are mostly victims of suicide bombings and targeted shootings, rape seems to be a growing method of violence against smaller minority groups such as Christians and Hindus.
In June, 15 "Community Protection Groups" – composed of pastors, lawyers and doctors – were formed by Christians of different denominations throughout Pakistan, to control sectarian violence and acts of discrimination.
A recent meeting of Christian human rights advocates in Lahore denounced the “deteriorating situation of Christians and the growing threats from Muslim extremists towards minorities,” according to the Vatican's Fides News Agency.
According to the report, the findings “paint a grim and challenging picture for the new government of Prime Minister Newaz Sharif.
“To stem the rising tide of violent religious extremism, groups and individuals responsible for attacks on religious communities must be punished,” it said.
While there are mostly militant groups or private citizens behind the attacks, “government actors are not blameless,” with police officers turning a blind eye to mob attacks or pressuring victims not to file claims when they belong to religious minorities.
“The climate of impunity threatening all Pakistanis, regardless of their faith," the text concludes, "is also exacerbated by the much-abused blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws."