By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Lethal attacks by Taliban militants hit 54 Pakistani places of worship of various faiths in the past 10 years, killing 1,165 worshippers and injuring about 2,900, a recent report revealed.
The defiled holy places included mosques, churches, Sufi shrines, Shia processions and Imam Barghas, Ahmadi worship centres and missionary schools, a report compiled by Muhammad Nafees, a Karachi-based independent security analyst and researcher, shows.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and affiliated banned sectarian organisations like Jaish-e-Muhammad and Jundullah claimed responsibility in almost all cases. Most of the victims were women and children. Holy books of various faiths were burnt in many attacks.
The most recent bombing occurred January 25 at a police check post in Lahore, killing 13 people and injuring 70 others. The suicide bomber may have been trying to hit either the shrine of Sufi Data Darbar or a Muharram procession, as the explosion occurred between the two, media reported.
Toll compiled to showcase Taliban atrocities
The rationale behind compiling the death toll is to illustrate the atrocities of the Taliban, which the Pakistani mainstream media generally ignore, Nafees told Central Asia Online.
“The terrifying data on attacking holy places illustrate the breadth and depth of violent puritan blasphemies committed by Taliban militants,” he said.
“The al-Qaeda-linked Taliban have ruthlessly attacked mosques and other holy places in the country in an effort not only to kill their opponents but also to target minorities,” William Sadiq, a human rights activist in Karachi, told Central Asia Online.
Militants are lashing out against military defeats and public rejection, he said.
Al-Qaeda-linked militants similarly have bombed holy places in Iraq too, killing thousands of Shia Muslims, he added.
The Taliban are demonstrating their disregard for human life and for the sanctity of places of worship in Pakistan, Sadiq said, adding they want to splinter Pakistan by fuelling sectarian hatred.
Mosques bear brunt of attack
The Taliban attacked 17 mosques in the past 10 years, killed 457 worshippers and injured 808. One of the most brazen attacks occurred March 27, 2009, when a suicide bomber stormed a mosque at Peshawar-Torkham Highway in Jamrud, Khyber Agency. The attack killed 83 people, including 16 security personnel, and injured more than 100.
Another deadly suicide bombing killed at least 72 and injured more than 100 at the Wali Muhammad Mosque in Dara Adamkhel, 35km south of Peshawar, November 5, 2010.
“Islam is the religion of love, peace and harmony. True Muslims don’t attack such holy places, and those miscreants who did this are not Muslims,” said Sahibzada Fazal Karim, a religious leader and head of Markazi Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan.
“This is the time that all the political parties including religious groups should join hands against the terrorist activities of Taliban; otherwise, the acts will continue,” Karim told Central Asia Online. “God will never forgive them for these atrocities.”
Sufi shrines, other religious places attacked, too
In the past 10 years, terrorists attacked seven Sufi shrines, which arouse the ire of militants who take a hard-line interpretation of Islam, killing 130 people.
The deadliest attack was March 19, 2005, when a suicide bomber killed 36 at the shrine of Pir Rakhel Shah in Jhal Magsi, Balochistan.
Shia Imam Barghas and Muharram processions were also key targets. Militants attacked 16 Imam Barghas in the past 10 years, killing 260 worshippers and injuring more than 900. Similarly they targeted five Muharram processions, killing 160.
The most lethal attack on Shia Muslims occurred September 3 in Quetta, when a suicide bombing killed 73. Militants also attacked other minorities – the Ahmadis and Christians. In the past 10 years, they killed 104 Ahmadi and 24 Christian worshippers. Two simultaneous suicide attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore May 28 killed 95 worshippers.
“Even when the TPP admitted their involvement in such cases, the media (would say) that until an investigation is complete, we can’t say for sure who committed this crime,” Nafees said, adding that religious and political parties that fall to condemn the Taliban’s atrocities either feared them or were working hand-in-glove with them.
“Over the years, Pakistan has seen a radical ideology attacking holy places,” said Prof. Zakaullah Sheikh, a teacher of Islamic studies at a governmental college in Hyderabad.
Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic scriptures holds that all symbols (holy places) of opposing ideologies represent shrik (infidelity). Through desecrating these holy places, the Taliban want to ultimately bring about a shift in the interpretation of religious authority, Sheikh said.