Well how else would you call it? You guys said it yourself, for many years Christians weren't allowed to practice their religion openly especially during the governments of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Zia ul-Haq. Many Christians are still persecuted now, eg the blasphemy laws, and a Muslim who converts to Christianity still faces the death penalty. So I'm just asking how is Christianity doing presently in Pakistan?
Wait, so you think only Christians had to hide their religion under Zia's time (Bhutto didn't persecute Christians as far as I know)? Zia was a DICTATOR who controlled everything, and tried to shape Pakistani into some Saudi style "Islamic" Emirate. Even Muslims couldn't freely do as they liked during his rule, especially if you were Shia, Ahmadiya, or Zikri. He even passed laws stating that Ahmadiyas weren't Muslims, and had to call their mosques "worship places." The traditional and tolerant Sufism of Kashmir, Punjab, and Sindh was largely suppressed too, in favor of the harsh interpretations from Arabia, and my own home-province, the NWFP (that Pashtun province next to Afghanistan). The only religion allowed to really operate in the open were the hard-line interpretations of Sunnism. Christians weren't singled out for harsh treatment, we ALL suffered. Unfortunately, Zia's rule made a lasting impression on Pakistan, and the fundamentalists have become powerful, especially in NWFP and Balochistan. Despite the fact that they get clobbered in every election (except '02), the fundie fanatics have can mobilize their brainwashed followers so effectively that its impossible to repeal his religious laws. They can't succeed at the polls, that's why they are taking up guns and bombs - If they can't take Pakistan through democracy, they will try to take it by force.
Zia's effect on Shias is arguable worse than his effect on Christians. While Shia-Sunni relations are by and large very peaceful, and a large degree of intermarriage occurs between the groups, Shias nevertheless have come under attack by the Sunni radicals who were groomed under Zia's rule with CIA dollars and guns, since they were meant to fight in Afghanistan (where they were to go after the war, well, no one really considered that). Zia ruined a lot of things for a lot of people. But much of the anti-Shia attacks, especially in S. Punjab and NWFP are the result of tribal or class conflict. In South Punjab, the rich landlords have historically been Shia, and their serfs Sunnis. In NWFP, the Shia Orakzai tribe are fighting with their Sunni neighbors over control of some land near Bannu, as they have done for centuries. BTW, the Bhuttos are Shias, as is the president of Pakistan's largest private airline, AirBlue, as well some very prominent members of the Parliament, like Hon. Mrs. Espahani. On the death certificate of Pakistan's founding father, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, his daughter wrote in "Shia" for his religion... his marriage certificate says the same.
The Blasphemy Law is evil, but its mostly used to settle old scores, not theological disputes. Muslims are targeted by them as well because ANYONE who "offends" Islam in Pakistan technically is subject to those laws, not just Christians. Its very easy for an old vendetta to be settled by something so vague as the Blasphemy Law. Pakistan's brandy-loving dictator, Mr. Secular Musharraf, actually tried to repeal them, but the pro-Taliban fundamentalists threatened to kill him and cause widespread mayhem if he did. Point is, vendettas against Christians are settled by Blasphemy Laws - vendettas amongst Muslims are settled by guns. At least the former get some legal rights and press in the West.
As for the death penalty for converts, I'm not sure that's ever been enforced in Pakistan by the gov't (vigilantes are another issue), and in fact, I don't think its actually part of our law. When people talk about converts facing death, I think they are referring to the fact that they may be targeted by relatives or other civilians, not the gov't. If it is a law, it was likely introduced by Zia the loony dictator - who also changed the law to deem that criminals must have their hands cut off. As far as I know, no one ever was subject to that by the state either.
Sorry for the long post, but it bothers me that people think minorities in Pakistan are persecuted by the gov't. There is discrimination for sure, especially since Christians are the descendants of poor and illiterate Hindus that were at the very bottom of the economic ladder (some Pakistanis still haven't given up the Hindu caste system of their ancestors, and so poor people in general are discriminated against, not just minorities). Its unfair to say all minorities in Pakistan are treated badly because of their religion, because a lot has to do with vendettas or socioeconomic class (in the case of Christians), or tensions with India (Hindus... like how many Muslims are badly treated, and used as scape-goats by Hindu nationalists in India because of anti-Pakistan sentiment). There has been anti-Sikh sentiment in Pakistan because Sikhs enthusiastically sided with Hindus in 1947, and were quite active in the anti-Muslim killing sprees during Partition, in which hundreds of thousands of us were butchered (to be fair, it was a two-sided street of course). Since so many Sikhs were alienated and killed by the Indian forces during the Khalistan insurgency in the 1980's-1990's, I think anti-Sikh feeling has gone down. Zoroastrians (Parsis), are wealthy, and are not associated with India. Consequently, there is almost no discrimination against them, and they are held in very high regard for their business acumen.
Also keep in mind that some Christians have made it very high up in Pakistan, such as A.R. Cornelius who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And a Hindu, Justice Rana Baghwan Das, was also our acting Supreme Court's Chief Justice until he retired last year. How could an intolerant nation tolerate minorities in one of the most powerful positions of power? While Pakistan's minorities definitely have some problems, the media (and many of our eastern neighbors) unfairly make it out to be FAR worse than it really is.
Quid Phir Bhe