Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi on Monday condemned the killing of a priest in Peshawar a day earlier and said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was monitoring the case through the Prime Minister's Office.
He expressed these views while speaking to the media at Peshawar's Saint John's Church where he had gone to offer his condolences.
William Siraj was killed a day ago when unidentified attackers had fired on his vehicle near Jamil Chowk on Peshawar’s Ring Road. Another padre, Naeem Patrick, who was travelling with Siraj, was injured in the incident.
Siraj's last rites were performed today (Monday) at Peshawar's All Saints' Church, following which he was laid to rest. Additional policemen were deployed around the church where the priest's memorial service was attended by more than 3,000 mourners.
Expressing grief over the incident, Ashrafi said the purpose behind his visit to Saint John's Church was to "sit together and resolve matters".
Anti-Pakistan elements aim to spread fear in the country, he said, adding that the attack on the priest in Peshawar was tantamount to an attack on the entire country.
"Recent attacks are a conspiracy to fuel religious, sectarian [differences]," he said, without specifying which attacks he was referring to.
He said that "the attack on the Christian community [had failed] to reduce morale" and expressed solidarity with the Christian community.
"We and the Christian community are united," Ashrafi said. "We want to give this message from the church that we are united."
Earlier, Ashrafi and other religious scholars from different schools of thought offered prayers at the church.
Separately, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif condemned the priest's killing and demanded the perpetrators' immediate arrest.
"Strongly condemn target killing of Christian faith leader William Siraj in Peshawar. There is absolutely no place for such horrific acts in Quaid's Pakistan," he tweeted, adding that the killer must be arrested immediately.
Meanwhile, PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz termed the killing in broad daylight "extremely painful and alarming".
"Pakistan was created with the promise of equal rights for all citizens, especially minorities. Where are those rights? Is there anything that's functioning correctly under this regime? Shame," she tweeted.
Hina Jilani, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, also condemned the killing.
In a statement, she said the commission "sees the attack as a blatant assault not only on Pakistan's Christian community but on all religious minorities whose right to life and security of person remains under constant threat.”
She demanded more steps for the protection of minorities.
Siraj was a Kohati gate-resident, a retired schoolteacher and priest at a church in the Chamkani area.
According to the police, he and Patrick were making their way back after Sunday service when the Suzuki Bolan van they were travelling in was shot at near Madina Market. A third passenger, identified as Inayat, remained unhurt.
Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson Muhammad Asim told Dawn that Siraj was already dead on arrival, while Patrick had sustained minor injuries.
Gulbahar police said that a search operation had been launched in the area to arrest the attackers and a murder case had been registered against unidentified assailants.
Following the incident, several members of the Christian community, including Bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter, provincial minister Kamran Bangash and police chief Moazzam Jah Ansari had visited the Chamkani church to condole with the victims’ families.
The attack also sparked a protest and members of the Christian community had blocked Peshawar's Ring Road in protest on Sunday, demanding justice for the murdered man.
With additional input from AP