ISLAMABAD: Police officers showed “cowardice and negligence” in failing to confront a mob that attacked and set fire to a Hindu temple in northwest Pakistan, the provincial police chief said Tuesday.
Around 1,500 Muslims last week descended on the temple — in a remote village of northeast Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — after protesting against renovations being made to an adjoining building owned by a Hindu group.
“There were 92 police officials at the spot, but they showed cowardice and negligence,” provincial police chief Sanaullah Abbasi admitted at a Supreme Court hearing into the case in Islamabad.
Around 12 police officials have been suspended, Abbasi told reporters outside the court.
He said the protestors remained peaceful until an infamatory speech by cleric Molvi Shareef — who also led a mob in a previous demolition of the temple in 1997.
“They went with an impunity,” Pakistan’s Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed said of the mob, who used sledgehammers to knock down the walls of the temple before setting the building ablaze last week.
Pakistan’s top court, in an unprecedented move, has also ordered authorities to submit a separate report on the attack.
Discrimination and violence against religious minorities are common in Pakistan, where Muslims make up 97 percent of the population and Hindus around two percent.
Similar incidents in the past have faced little scrutiny, with police refusing to investigate over fears it could ignite further rioting by Islamic hardliners.
While no Hindus live in the area, devotees often visit the temple and its shrine to pay homage to the Hindu saint Shri Param Hans Ji Mahaaraj, who died there before the 1947 partition of India that gave birth to Pakistan.
It is the fourth holiest Hindu worship site in the conservative Muslim country.
The provincial government has said it would pay for the restoration of the temple, but the court suggested the cost be covered by those arrested over the attack.
“You have to recover money from the people who did this, from this Molvi and his followers,” Ahmed said.
The court was told so far 109 arrests related to the case were made, including nine who led the mob.