ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has witnessed a steep decline in terrorist attacks on places of worship in 2016, mainly due to improved security and relentless military operations against militants, analysts say.
A recent Jamatul Ahrar suicide attack on a mosque in Mohmand Agency, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which killed 36 worshippers, brought the issue to national attention.
But the September 16 incident was the only terrorist attack on a place of worship in Pakistan in 2016. Security forces foiled another attempted bombing.
In 2015, terrorists attacked worship places six times, killing 111 people, killing the attackers.
Between 2002 and 2015, about 101 terrorist attacks hit mosques, imambargahs and minorities' worship places throughout Pakistan, leading to the deaths of 1,366 worshipers and injuries of 2,748 others, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
United against terrorism
"Operation Zarb-e-Azb [an army offensive in North Waziristan that began in June 2014] has played a pivotal role in minimising militancy in the country," Peshawar-based Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a security analyst and former security secretary for FATA, said. "It wiped ut safe havens, infrastructures, bomb-making units, training centres and weapons depots of the militants in North Waziristan."
North Waziristan, before troops cleaned it up, "was known as a terrorist hub and no-go area for security forces before the operation", he said.
"Unlike before the military operation, now people don't have any fear about going to worship places, markets, hotels and public places," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Today people feel more secure and safe ... mainly because of the military operation against militants," he said. "It revived the writ of the state and ended the stronghold and fear of the Taliban."
Scattered attacks will occur now and again, he said, but the on-going security operations will put an end to militancy in Pakistan.
"Some militants have taken refuge in areas bordering Afghanistan, but the security forces of Pakistan are conducting operations to eliminate the hide-outs of militants and their safe passages," he said.
Shah urged Pakistani authorities to continue efforts to secure the border with Afghanistan and to repatriate the remaining 1.5m Afghan refugees in the country.
Taking maximum security measures is essential to eliminate and discourage extremism and militancy, he said.
Pakistanis resist religious strife
Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, targeted operations against militants in various parts of the country and enhanced security of worship places in sensitive areas almost completely eliminated the culture of frequent attacks, said Karachi-based security analyst Col. (ret.) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt.
"Worship places have remained soft targets for the militants," he told Pakistan Forward. "They attacked several mosques, imambargahs, churches and temples to create religious hatred in the country."
The government, security officials and administrators of worship places should beef up security and involve local civilians in security to thwart militants even more, he said.
"Targeted operations by security officials and enhanced security for worship places of Muslims and non-Muslims in Sindh Province have protected these places from frequent terrorist attacks," said Assadullah Bhatti, a security analyst and a department chief at state-run television PTV News in Karachi.
"Like other provinces of Pakistan, Sindh faced frequent major terrorist attacks on worship places of Muslims, Christians and Hindus, but the operation against militants [Zarb-e-Azb] ended such attacks in this province in 2016," he told Pakistan Forward.
Terrorists plot attacks on worship places to generate strife among members of different sects and religions in Pakistan, but better security and operations against militants foiled this conspiracy, he said.
During Eid ul Adha, a few weeks ago, terrorists targeted a Shia congregation in Shikarpur, he said, noting that police officers and civilian security guards arrested one would-be suicide bomber alive.
The other one blew himself up, injuring 11 individuals, Bhatti said.
"The people of Pakistan should join hands with security officers to protect worship places from terrorism," he said.