September 22, 2013, a Sunday, is etched in the memories of Peshawar’s residents in particular and its Christian inhabitants in particular as the most horrifying of days.
Two back-to-back blasts rocked the entire historic Saddar neighbourhood of the city that day, leading residents to rush to the sounds of the blasts. As they grew near what became apparent was the historic All Saints Church, sounds of wails and screams grew louder only to be accompanied by blood-soaked grounds with injured and dead worshippers laying all across.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Home Department states that over 100 people died in the twin suicide bombing that day — the biggest attack against minorities in the province to-date, and one which led the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice and call for wide-ranging measures for the protection of the country’s beleaguered minorities.
Even today, the clock inside the church is stuck on the time of the blast seven years ago.
Shahid Iqbal, who lost two of his brothers in the attack, said it was after this incident that minorities realised the extent of the threat to them during the deadly war on terror that was under way in the country at the time.
The devastating attack, though the first-of-its-kind in terms of intensity, was not the first act of violence against minorities’ worship places in the province.
The KP Religious Ministry has recorded over 200 attacks against religious sites of minorities in the last three decades.
According to a home department official, the year 1992 saw the most attacks against religious minorities in the country — a fallout of the Babri Masjid incident in India.
Hindu community leader Haroon Sarab Dial recalled that in that year, thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Kali Bhari Temple in Peshawar’s Saddar area. They eventually managed to break down the gate and entered the worship place, ransacking the temple and destroying everything in their path. According to government documents, the same year attacks against minorities worship places occurred in Nowshera, Swat, Mardan, Buner, Bannu, DI Khan and Lakki Marwat, among others.
In 2008 in Nowshera, a Hindu temple was ransacked after a local dispute between two groups. The temple was reconstructed on state expense later, but the Hindu idols which were reportedly damaged and even stolen by some accounts during the assault were never replaced or compensated for by the authorities.
Then in October 2012, during protests against the international publishing of blasphemous cartoons across the country, a rousing mob of protesters burnt down a historic church in Mardan. The church was later reconstructed after the provincial government approved funds for the purpose.
Late last year, when a historic Hindu shrine was attacked by a violent mob in Karak, though strict action was taken against negligent police officials and those who instigated the assault, the Hindu community realised that their worship places are unsafe as well and subject to spontaneous violence by religious extremists.
Sarab Diyal asserted that had the police taken action against the aggressors before these acts, or even after, it would serve as a strict deterrence for future events.