Pakistan: Murderous Faith

Pakistan has already recorded six attacks on places of worship of different Muslim sects in the current year, resulting in 157 fatalities and 332 persons injured (data till October 1, 2023).

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A man comforts another mourning the killing of his relative in the blast in Balochistan [Arshad Butt/AP]

On September 29, 2023, at least 60 people, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), were killed while another 100 were injured in a suicide blast targeting a 12th Rabiul Awwal procession near Madina Masjid at Alfalah Road in Mastung town (Mastung District), Balochistan. Mastung Assistant Commissioner (AC) Atta-ul-Munim said that the explosion took place when people were gathering for the procession. The target were people of Barelvi sub-sect of Sunni Muslims. No outfit has so far claimed responsibility. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), meanwhile, has denied its involvement.

In another incident on the same day, at least five people were killed and another 12 sustained injuries, when two suicide blasts targeted a mosque located inside the premises of the Doaba Police Station in the Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). While one of the attackers was killed in a shootout with the Police outside the mosque, the other managed to penetrate the place of worship and exploded his device. Two Police officers were also injured during the exchange of fire. The target were people of Deobandi sub-sect of Sunni Muslims. No outfit has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

On July 25, 2023, one Policeman, Additional Station House Officer Adnan Afridi, was killed in a suicide blast inside Ahle-e-Hadith Masjid (mosque) in the Gharuba area of Jamrud tehsil (revenue unit) in Khyber District of KP. The Masjid belongs to the Ahle Hadees sub-sect of Sunni Muslims.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Pakistan has already recorded six attacks on places of worship of different Muslim sects in the current year, resulting in 157 fatalities and 332 persons injured (data till October 1, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, there was only one such attack, resulting in 64 fatalities and 194 persons injured. No such attack took place in the remaining period of 2022. Year 2021 did not record any such attack.

Since March 6, 2000, 126 such attacks have been reported from across Pakistan, resulting in the death of at least 1,759 persons, and injuries to 3,897. Though 2012 was the worst year in terms of attacks, with 18 incidents, a high of 274 fatalities in such attacks, were recorded in 2010.

As the statistics suggest, the current year has witnessed highest number of attacks since 2014, when there were seven such attacks, though there were six such attacks in 2015 as well. The previous high of 159 fatalities were recorded 2013. 

Some of the major attacks on places of worship of different sects of Muslims, involving 50 or more fatalities included:

January 30, 2023: At least 93 persons were killed and another 221 were injured in a suicide blast inside a mosque in the Police Lines area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of KP. The suicide attacker, who was in Police uniform, was present in the front row during the Zuhr prayer (the second of the daily mandatory prayers, offered at noon). The Capital City Police Officer, Peshawar, Ejaz Khan, disclosed that around 300 to 400 Policemen usually offered Zuhr prayers at the venue.

March 4, 2022: At least 57 worshippers lost their lives and another 194 were injured when a suicide attacker detonated himself inside a Shia mosque in the Koocha Risaldar area of Peshawar, KP. The Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) claimed the attack.

February 16, 2017: At least 88 people were killed and 343 injured when a suicide bomber attacked the crowded Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the Sehwan Sharif town of Jamshoro District in Sindh. The blast took place inside the premises of the shrine as a dhamaal (Sufi ritual) was taking place. A large number of women and children were said to be among the casualties. Devotees throng the shrine of the revered Sufi saint every Thursday to participate in a dhamaal and prayers. IS-KP had claimed responsibility for the attack.

November 12, 2016: At least 52 persons were killed and 102 were injured in an explosion at the shrine of Shah Norani in the Khuzdar District of Balochistan. The explosion took place at the spot where dhamaal was being performed, within the premises of the shrine. IS-KP had claimed responsibility for the attack.

January 30, 2015: At least 61 Shias were killed and 50 were injured in a bomb explosion at Karbala Maula Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in Lakhi Dar area of Shikarpur District in Sindh. 

July 26, 2013: At least 50 persons were killed and 100 were injured in coordinated twin suicide attacks at Parachinar in the Kurram Agency of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Suicide bombers on motorcycles blew themselves up within a minute of each other outside the Imambargah.

August 19, 2011: At least 56 persons were killed and 123 injured in a suicide attack during the Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid Madina in the Ghundai area of Jamrud in the Khyber Agency of erstwhile FATA.

May 28, 2010: At least 100 worshippers were killed and 92 were injured as seven assailants, including three suicide bombers, attacked an Ahmadiyya place of worship at Model Town and the Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore in Punjab.

November 5, 2010: At least 97 persons were killed and 70 injured in a suicide attack on the Friday congregation at a mosque in the Darra Adamkhel area of Kohat District in KP.

March 27, 2009: 83 persons, including 16 Security Force personnel, were killed and over 100 injured in a suicide attack on a mosque on the Peshawar-Torkham Highway in the Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency in erstwhile FATA.

June 5, 2009: A suicide bomber killed 50 persons, including 12 children, at a mosque in a remote village of the Upper Dir District of the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

December 21, 2007: At least 50 persons were killed and 80 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of worshippers offering Id-ul-Adha prayers at the Markazi Jamia Masjid Sherpao in the Charsadda District of KP.

July 4, 2003: At least 53 persons were killed and 57 injured, as three Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) terrorists, including a suspected suicide bomber, attacked a Shia mosque during Friday prayers in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. 

In the sectarianism-riddled society of Pakistan, the places of worship of every sect have come under attack. Though the places of worship of the Shias, with the second largest population (estimated 10-15 per cent of the total) in the Sunni dominated nation, are the primary targets, the places of worship of other minority sects, such as Ahmadiyya and Sufi, have also been repeatedly targeted. The Ahmadis are, by law, not considered Muslims in Pakistan. In 1974, the Government led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto passed the Second Amendment to the Constitution, declaring the Ahmadis ‘non-Muslim’. The major players carrying out such attacks are the TTP and LeJ, which aim to transform Pakistan into a Sunni state, primarily through violence. The IS-KP is a relatively new player in the bloodbath. It has claimed some of the major sectarian attacks in the recent past. Sunni mosques have faced several attacks from Sunni extremists, who consider those who do not adhere to their own narrow interpretation of Islam as murtad (apostates or deviants).   

As terrorist violence continues to surge across Pakistan in the aftermath of the Afghan Taliban’s return to power in Kabul, and the simultaneous strengthening of terrorist formations inside Pakistan – mainly the TTP and IS-KP – attacks on places of worship, like other forms of terrorism, are likely to escalate. The existing fanaticism and deep sectarian divide will also grow, pushing the country further into chaos.  

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Counter-terrorism Expert on Pakistan at Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) in New Delhi

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