Ash clung to my clothing as I walked through the smoky remains of Joseph Colony, a Christian enclave southwest of Lahore where a mob set fire to hundreds of homes and two churches after rumors spread that a young Christian had insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
The dreary ruins of the settlement stood in sharp contrast to the bright afternoon sun as the cries of women mourning the loss of their homes echoed through the streets.
Seeing the camera I carried, a man rushed towards me with a half-burned Bible in one hand and the charred remains of smaller pocket-sized New Testaments.
The extent of the damage reminded me of a previous – and deadlier – incident in 2009 in Gojra in Punjab province, when eight Christians were burned alive after being accused of blasphemy.
I don’t think anyone expected a mob to raze an entire neighborhood in the second largest city in the country. These things generally happen in rural areas.
And if past experience is any indication, justice in this case will not be swift if it comes at all.
“History suggests that nothing moves authorities to action after such attacks. This boosts the confidence of extremist groups,” said Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, national director for the National Commission for Justice and Peace at the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.
“But Christians are more loyal than others in the country and will remain peaceful,” he added.
The burning of Joseph Colony is just the latest in a series of ongoing sectarian bombings and killings, although in recent months they have mainly targeted Shia Muslims.
Despite overwhelming demand for military intervention in provinces where Shias have been targeted, the government has opted instead to offer mere assurances of action and warnings that the attacks would continue.
The Interior Ministry last month said the country should expect more attacks in the lead-up to the national election, but they have said nothing about what they intend to do to prevent such violence.
Some analysts fear that no reasonable plan exists, and peace talks between the Taliban and political and religious groups have yet to bear fruit – though it shows the willingness of many groups to do just about anything to prevent the derailing of the elections.
“This is an ideological war and there is no other way forward. Punjab province is the most peaceful region in the country because it has done some sort of deal with the banned organizations,” one retired army officer told me.
The failure to punish perpetrators of violence against minority groups has again left the Christian community here living in perpetual fear.
In response to the attack on Joseph Colony, Christian leaders have closed religious schools across the country and called on the government yet again to end the abuse of the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, which are so often employed for political purposes or to settle private grudges.
But the Christian community will have to come up with a better strategy, as the violence is only getting worse.
Shias brought the country to a near standstill last month after staging sit-ins at major bus terminals. This might not be the most effective means for other minority groups to air their dissent, but if even a quarter of the country’s 2.8 million Christians gathered at the Badami Bagh general bus stand, the Punjab government would have to pay heed to their protests.
At a time of the year when Christians worldwide celebrate the Lenten season and the resurrection of Jesus, Christians in Pakistan need the prayers of their brethren abroad because they continue to live through Jesus’ passion.
Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a journalist based in Lahore