Pakistan says it will rebuild a century-old Hindu shrine heavily damaged in a mob attack that triggered condemnation from the Muslim-majority country’s Hindu community.
A crowd of hundreds swarmed and then set fire to the shrine in the Karak district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province on December 30.
On December 31, police announced that 31 people had been arrested in raids linked to the attack, including a leader of an Islamist party and former local administrator.
On January 1, the chief administrator of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mahmood Khan, said the provincial government would reconstruct the shrine and condemned the attack.
Numbering an estimated 8 million, Pakistan’s Hindu community has become the target of rising religious violence in recent years. The majority of the country's Hindus are based in the southern province of Sindh, near the border with India.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show men using hammers to damage the walls of the shrine in Karak as dark smoke rose up from the site.
District police chief Irfanullah Khan said that local Muslim clerics incited a mob of more than 1,000 people to destroy the Hindu shrine after an adjacent house was recently purchased by the Hindu community and had started to undergo renovation.
Locals who spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal characterized the conflict as a land dispute over alleged plans to expand the shrine.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the site, provincial police chief Sanaullah Abbasi said cases had been registered against "more than 300 people."
Rahmat Salam Khattak, a leader of the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI) party and former district administrator, is among those already detained.
Rimmel Mohydin, Pakistan campaigner at Amnesty International, called the destruction of the shrine "yet another example of persistent discrimination faced by the beleaguered Hindu community in Pakistan."
The shrine was reportedly first built in the early 1900s, but the local Hindu community left in 1947 when Pakistan gained independence from British rule.
By 1997 the shrine had been taken over by local Muslims, and Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2015 ordered that the site be handed back to the Hindu community and restored.
The attack comes after construction of the first Hindu temple in Islamabad was temporarily halted in July after some religious leaders raised objections and a mob vandalized the site.
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department placed Pakistan on a list of "countries of particular concern" for religious freedom violations -- a designation Islamabad has rejected.