THE killing of Christian clergyman William Siraj in Peshawar on Sunday comes as a grim reminder of the threat that terrorism, particularly the targeting of religious minority groups, poses to Pakistan. According to reports, the priest, along with a fellow clergyman, was targeted after leaving a local church following Sunday services. While a PTI minority MPA has said the victim did not face any threats, the Peshawar police chief has termed it a “terrorist act”. Peshawar has of course seen mass violence targeting minorities in the past with the 2013 bombing of the All Saints Church being a particularly horrific example. Now, with the situation fluid next door in Afghanistan, and the resurgence of terrorist activity in this country, the authorities will need to remain alert to ensure that minorities are protected.
While security forces across the country must remain active, KP and Balochistan — due to their physical proximity to Afghanistan — should be particularly vigilant. Extra security needs to be provided to churches, temples and other minority places of worship, while law-enforcement agencies should also protect neighbourhoods where large numbers of non-Muslim citizens live. As has been the experience during earlier CT operations, intelligence-based actions may be the best option to bust terrorist gangs looking to foment violence and target vulnerable segments of society. Moreover, it is the state’s responsibility to continue pressing the Afghan Taliban authorities to ensure their soil is not used for hosting elements inimical to Pakistan and determined to cause instability in this country. The challenge is essentially two-fold for the security forces where protecting minority communities is concerned. They must work to prevent ‘high-impact’ attacks against churches and large gatherings of non-Muslim citizens, while keeping alert to prevent the killing of ‘soft’ targets, such as the one witnessed in Peshawar. By no means can militant groups be allowed to unleash a reign of terror across the country, as was the case not too long ago. Pre-emptive action is required to neutralise such elements.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2022