Sunday, February 17, 2013

Shiite Protesters Demand Arrests After Bombing in Pakistan

February 17, 2013

Shiite Protesters Demand Arrests After Deadly Bombing in Pakistan

New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Hundreds of Shiite women staged a sit-in in the western city of Quetta on Sunday evening to mourn the 84 people who were killed in an explosion a day earlier in a crowded market there, and they demanded that the government arrest the attackers.

Grieving relatives declined to bury their dead until the government promised to track down those responsible for carrying out brazen attacks against Hazaras, a Shiite ethnic minority, in the city.

Government officials said a team, led by a high-ranking police official, was investigating.

Protests and sit-ins were also held in other major cities on Sunday, as Shiite leaders condemned the government’s inability to curb the killings.

The attack on Saturday took place in Hazara Town, one of two enclaves in Quetta for Hazaras, who have suffered numerous attacks at the hands of Sunni death squads in recent years.

The police said that explosives were hidden in a water-supply truck. It remained unclear how the truck had managed to enter the busy market, avoiding detection by police and intelligence specialists. The police said the bomb was apparently set off by a remote-controlled device, possibly hidden in a rickshaw. The explosion caused a building to collapse, and three other structures were heavily damaged.

Shiite leaders have also called for a strike in Karachi, the southern port city, on Monday. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Karachi’s most powerful political party, said it would support a strike.

The growing sense of insecurity and vulnerability felt by Shiites was evident in angry speeches by leaders across the country on Sunday.

Allama Asghar Askari, a Shiite leader, sharply criticized the country’s law enforcement authorities at a rally here in the nation’s capital. “If the law-enforcement forces had targeted the militant strongholds with real intent, people would not have seen such a day,” Mr. Askari said to hundreds of protesters. One was holding up a placard that said “Stop Shiite genocide.”

Some Shiites have suggested that Army troops should be sent to Quetta to quell the sectarian violence, but for now neither the government nor the military has given any indication of a deployment.

The police in Quetta and the Frontier Corps, a provincial paramilitary force, have come under heavy criticism as violence has escalated and militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the largest sectarian group, have targeted Shiites with impunity in Baluchistan Province, where Quetta is the capital.

“Militants term Hazaras as ‘impure’ and have vowed to ‘cleanse Quetta of their presence,’ ” Tahir Hussain, the city’s representative for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said in an interview.

The killings have forced at least 20,000 Hazaras to leave the city, Mr. Hussain said, adding that militants have a heavy presence in the Mastung district of Baluchistan Province. More than 300 Shiites, many of them Hazaras, have been killed in Baluchistan since 2008, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Frontier Corps and the police have shown little willingness to clamp down on militant strongholds in Mastung, Mr. Hussain said.

“They know who are the perpetrators,” he said. “But apart from giving empty assurances, the high-ups of law-enforcement have not done anything.”

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