For decades Pakistan tacitly encouraged the Taliban's extremism. Now it's paying the price. Sunday's deadly explosion targeting Christians celebrating Easter in Lahore, the country's second-largest city, reportedly killed 70 people and wounded hundreds more, many of them women and children. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, which itself is an offshoot of the Afghan Taliban that Pakistan's military supported for decades, claimed responsibility for the carnage. But the ultimate blame falls on Pakistan's government and military elites who long turned a blind eye to the monster they created.
As a U.S. ally, Pakistan played a major role in organizing, arming and training the Afghan Taliban to wage holy war following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the Russians left in 1989, Pakistan continued to support the group as a hedge against rival India's influence in the region. But given the toxic mix of religious fanaticism and political violence in all the various Taliban factions, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it was only a matter of time before some of its proxies would turn against it.
This was third bombing targeting civilians in Pakistan within a month. Two previous attacks included a suicide bombing that killed 16 and a bomb left on a bus that killed 14 government employees in Peshawar. Christians make up only 2 percent of Pakistan's population, but they are a persecuted minority whose presence is considered anathema to Muslim hard liners who want the government to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The carnage in Lahore was a culmination of those tendencies, even though most of the victims were in fact other Muslims, not Christians.
Pakistan's government has tacitly encouraged the extremists by enacting blasphemy laws that make "insulting Islam" a crime punishable by death — a charge that some Muslim clerics could apply to Christians for simply practicing their faith. Advocates for the blasphemy laws took to the streets around the country earlier this month to protest the execution of a radical Muslim cleric for the murder of a secular provincial governor, Salmaan Taseer, who had campaigned against the country's blasphemy laws precisely because they can so easily be used to persecute religious minorities. But for many Pakistanis even the idea of changing the country's blasphemy laws is heretical, and extremists like Mr. Taseer's killer are regarded as national heroes.
The latest series of attacks have underscored the political instability in Pakistan that has long concerned U.S. officials worried about the security of the country's nuclear arsenal. The possibility that extremists might one day steal or buy an unguarded weapon from one of the country's nuclear sites is enough to keep diplomats tossing in their sleep at night. For that reason alone U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Pakistan to go after the Taliban and its affiliates on its side of the border with Afghanistan despite the strained relations that have existed between Pakistan and the United States since the 2011 raid on Abbottabad in which Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces without Pakistan's knowledge or consent.