Hundreds of Muslims attacked and set fire to a Hindu temple in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, police and witnesses said, videos circulating on social media showed men using hammers to damage the temple walls as thick grey smoke rose from the site.
The incident took place in a remote village in Karak district, some 100km (62 miles) southeast of Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakthunkhwa. “A charged mob of some 1,000 to 1,200 people were incited by the local Muslim clerics to destroy the Hindu temple,” district police chief Irfanullah Khan told the AFP news agency. Discrimination and violence against religious minorities is commonplace in Pakistan, where Muslims make up 97 percent of the population and Hindus just approximately 2 percent, earlier this month, the United States placed Pakistan on a list of “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom violations. Khan said resentment towards the temple, which was not in regular use, has been brewing for years, particularly after recent renovation work was carried out.
“The police have registered a case against some 20 people and with the help of videos, we will trace more culprits,” Khan added. Kamran Bangash, the provincial information minister, also confirmed the attack and the veracity of the videos seen on social media to AFP. “We believe in freedom of religion and those who were involved will not be spared,” Bangash said. Local resident Sulaman Khattak told AFP the crowd marched towards the temple after they were addressed by Muslim leaders. “They were prepared, some were carrying hammers and jerry cans of oil with them”, Khattak told AFP. “We will stage a protest in front of the Supreme Court against the attack on our temple which is one of the four largest holy sites of the Hindu community in Pakistan,” Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a governing party legislator and head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, told the dpa news agency.
Vankwani added that Pakistan was already “facing pressure in terms of religious freedom and minorities’ rights, therefore such acts of extremism must be curbed at any cost”. The country’s human rights minister, Shireen Mazari, said the government has a responsibility to “ensure safety and security of all our citizens and their places of worship”. Mazari said the local authorities had registered the incident and “further action being taken”. The temple was vandalised and demolished in 1997 but, in 2015, the Supreme court ordered its restoration. Pakistan has approximately eight million Hindus, majority of whom are based in the southern province of Sindh, near the border with India.