Pakistan faces growing anger over sectarian bombings

QUETTA, Pakistan Sun Feb 17, 2013 5:57pm EST

1 of 3. Smoke rises after a bomb attack in a Shi'ite Muslim area of the Pakistani city of Quetta February 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Naseer Ahmed

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QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Shi'ites called on the military on Sunday to take control of the city of Quetta after a bombing by Sunni militants killed 85 people, and threatened to stage a long march to the capital if their demands were not met.

Pakistani leaders have done little to contain hardline Sunni Muslim groups which have stepped up a campaign of bombings and assassinations of minority Shi'ites in a bid to destabilize the nuclear-armed country and install a Sunni theocracy.

The unpopular government, which is gearing up for elections expected within months, faces growing anger for failing to deliver stability.

On Saturday, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), seen as the most ruthless Sunni sectarian group, claimed responsibility for the Quetta attack, which deepened suspicions among Shi'ites that Pakistan's intelligence agencies were turning a blind eye to the bloodshed or even supporting extremists.

The families of the some of the victims have said they will not bury their dead until the army steps in to protect Shi'ites, said Hasnain Zaidi, a spokesman for an alliance of Shi'ite groups called Majlis Wahdat al Muslimeen.

Muslim tradition requires that bodies are buried as soon as possible and leaving them above ground is a potent expression of grief and pain.

"The situation is very tense," Zaidi told Reuters. "Thirty five bodies were burned beyond recognition. Shi'ite families will hold a long march to Islamabad if the army does not step in."

The death toll from the bombing rose overnight, with most of the casualties in the main bazaar of the southwestern city, the capital of Baluchistan and near the border with Afghanistan. The attack targeted ethnic Hazara Shi'ites.

"The terrorist attack on the Hazara Shi'ite community in Quetta is a failure of the intelligence and security forces," Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, governor of Baluchistan province, said while touring a hospital.

ELECTIONS LOOM

Leaders of the Hazara community called on the government to take decisive action, and Pakistanis warned that sectarian violence was spiraling out of control ahead of elections expected in May.

"The government is responsible for terrorist attacks and killings in the Hazara community because its security forces have not conducted operations against extremist groups," said Aziz Hazara, vice president of the Hazara Democratic Party.

"We are giving the government 48 hours to arrest the culprits involved in the killing of our people and after that we will launch strong protests."

On Sunday, people searched for survivors under blocks of cement torn off buildings by the blast. A large blood stain could be seen on a wall near the site.

Many shops and bazaars were closed. Relatives of the wounded responded to an appeal for blood made by hospitals.

"The government knows exactly who is doing what and who is behind all this," said Mohammad Imran, a local trader. "If the government wants (to prevent it), no one can take even a kitchen knife into any market."

In the capital Islamabad, about 400 people, including some Sunnis, staged a protest demanding the government stamp out extremism. Protests were also held in other cities, including the commercial capital Karachi.

"There is a law of the jungle, but in this country I think there is not even a law of the jungle," said Syed Abbas Naqvi, a Shi'ite.

"A person who is extremely helpless, vulnerable and powerless is always made the target of barbarity whereas all brutal people like the terrorists, Taliban and others who carry out these merciless acts...roam free all over the country."

POVERTY, CORRUPTION, POWER CUTS

Public anger has been growing over a host of other issues as well in the run-up to elections, from widespread poverty to power cuts to corruption.

Critics say Pakistan's intelligence agencies previously supported groups like LeJ to fight against Indian forces in Kashmir and failed subsequently to control them.

Now Shi'ites in Quetta and other cities say they are under siege by the al Qaeda-linked LeJ, which has also attacked Shi'ites in other parts of the country in recent months.

"We have grown tired of picking up the bodies of our loved ones," said Nasir Ali, 45, a government employee. "I have lost three family members so far in such blasts."

LeJ has also said it was behind a bombing last month in Quetta which killed nearly 100 people, one of Pakistan's worst sectarian attacks.

Sectarian violence is piling pressure on the U.S.-backed administration to avert a major conflict between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

"Unless we decide to unite, we will continue to get killed, said Malik Afzal, a Sunni student. "Today they (Shi'ites) have died. Tomorrow we (Sunni Muslims) will die. The next day, others will get killed."

More than 400 Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan last year, many by hitmen or bombs. Some hardline Shi'ite groups have struck back by killing Sunni clerics.

(Editing by Ron Popeski and Rosalind Russell)

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Comments (13)
wrote:
Its the Western backed terrorist agencies like LEJ, who dont want stability in the region of Baluchistan. Please report the truth which every one knows but not willing to share. Baluchistan is a golden spparow of Pakistan packed with rich reserves of Oil, Gas and minerals. They want to create anarchy so that UN forces can establish UN charter like they did in Congo and then under the watch dog of UN western backed agencies dig up rich resources. Every one knows whats going on but too afraid to talk about publicly. lets see if admin post my comments!

Feb 17, 2013 5:40am EST  --  Report as abuse
sosi wrote:
India will use its consulates in Afghanistan for `terrorist activities’ inside Baluchistan……..that was the concern from Pakistan at the time and Baluchistan don’t have that kind of violence. Now we have that???

Feb 17, 2013 8:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
kafantaris wrote:
The one that has the most power to stop the cycle of revenge is the one who has been wronged last and whose turn it is to act. He could “use” his turn and continue the cycle or he can forego it — both now and the next time until it stops. Such is the wisdom and utility of turning the other cheek that nobody thought of before Christ.
It is wrong for Muslims to kill Muslims and it offends Prophet Muhammad. They should figure out a way to stop avenge killings — even if means resorting to the ideas of Christ to do so.

Feb 17, 2013 9:55am EST  --  Report as abuse
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