A Muslim crowd in the eastern Pakistan province of Punjab attacked a Hindu temple on Wednesday, burning down parts of it and destroying a number of religious statues and other works of art inside. After local police failed to intervene, Pakistan deployed paramilitary forces to the area yesterday.
Wednesday's attack took place in the town of Bhong in Rahim Yar Khan district after a court granted bail to an eight-year-old Hindu boy who allegedly desecrated an Islamic seminary. The boy was arrested on charges of blasphemy for intentionally urinating on a carpet within the seminary's library, which houses religious books. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, and accusations of the offence have incited deadly riots in the past.
Videos of the attack were posted to Twitter on Wednesday by the leading Pakistani politician Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who criticised the "negligence" of local police as "very shameful". They show a group of men with sticks and iron rods smashing the temple's glass doors, windows and lights as well as tearing down religious idols and paintings.
Responding to Wednesday's incident, India's foreign ministry immediately summoned the senior Pakistani diplomat Aftab Hasan Khan, stationed in Delhi, to issue a formal condemnation of the attack and call for further steps to be taken to protect minorities in the Muslim-majority country.
Pakistan's prime minister Imran Khan issued a statement yesterday via Twitter saying that he "strongly condemns" the attack and will ensure all culprits are arrested. He adds that the government will restore the temple.
A Punjabi police official, Asif Raza, told AP News that troops are now guarding the temple and providing security to members of the town's Hindu community. A list of 50 suspects has been drawn up and arrests are expected to be made swiftly, he says.
In Delhi, India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said in a statement that such incidents "are occurring at an alarming rate while the state and security institutions in Pakistan have stood by idly and completely failed in preventing these attacks".
Although instances of sectarian conflict between Muslims and Hindus are less common in Pakistan than they are in India, in recent years, as relations between the two neighbouring states have worsened, Hindu temples in Pakistan have increasingly come under attack by Muslim mobs.
Bagchi says that in the past year alone Pakistan's "various temples and gurdwaras have been attacked, including the Mata Rani Bhatiyani Mandir in Sindh in January 2020, Gurdwara Sri Janamsthan in January 2020, and a Hindu temple in Karak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in December 2020".