Pakistan arrests 14 after hardliners destroy Hindu temple

Attack on temple in Karak was triggered by anger over renovation work

A policeman stands guard at the burnt Hindu temple a day after a mob attack in a remote village in Karak district, some 160 kms southeast of Peshawar on December 31, 2020. Hundreds of Muslims attacked and set fire to a Hindu temple in northwest Pakistan on December 30, police and witnesses said. / AFP / Abdul MAJEED

Pakistani police arrested 14 people in overnight raids after a Hindu temple was set on fire and demolished by a mob led by supporters of a radical Islamist party.

The temple's destruction on Wednesday in the north-western town of Karak drew condemnation from human rights activists and the minority Hindu community.

More raids were under way to arrest individuals who participated or provoked the mob to demolish the temple.

According to witnesses, the crowd was led by a local cleric and supporters of Pakistan's radical Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party.

The attack happened after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate the temple.

Pakistan’s minister for religious affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, called the attack “a conspiracy against sectarian harmony".

He said on Twitter attacks on places of worship of minority religious groups were not allowed in Islam and “protection of religious freedom of minorities is our religious, constitutional, moral and national responsibility".

Irfanullah Khan, the district police chief, said a house adjacent to the temple was recently bought by the Hindu community and was being renovated, which offended locals.

The incident comes weeks after the government allowed Hindu residents to build a new temple in Islamabad on the recommendation of a council of clerics.

Although Muslims and Hindus generally live peacefully together in Pakistan, there have been other attacks on Hindu temples in recent years. Most of Pakistan’s minority Hindus migrated to India in 1947 when India was divided by Britain’s government.

The temple in Karnak was previously attacked in 1997. Hindus have not lived in the area since the partition of British-ruled India in 1947 when Pakistan was created, but Hindu devotees occasionally visit the temple and the tomb of the Hindu saint Shri Paramhans, who according to Hindu faith died in the village in 1919.

In Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and where the majority of the country's Hindus live, more than 200 people protested outside the Supreme Court calling for justice.

"You must respect other people's religion. We are Pakistanis, and nobody needs to give us a certificate of loyalty," said Mangla Sharma, a Hindu member of Sindh's provincial assembly.

Gopal Kamuany, president of the Pakistan Hindu Council, accused local authorities of standing by as the attack happened.

"In the video of the attack, the administration is just watching silently as the mob dismantles the temple. What kind of justice is that," he said.

Earlier this month, the United States placed Pakistan on a list of "countries of particular concern" for religious freedom violations.

"The destruction of the Hindu temple in Karak is yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the beleaguered Hindu community in Pakistan," said Rimmel Mohydin, Pakistan campaigner at Amnesty International.