Angry residents yesterday demanded government protection from an onslaught of attacks against Shiite Muslims, a day after 81 people were killed in a massive bombing that a local official said was a sign that security agencies were too scared to do their jobs.
Saturday’s blast at a produce market in the city of Quetta also wounded 160 people and underlined the precarious situation for Shiites living in a majority Sunni country where many extremist groups do not consider them real Muslims.
Most of the dead and wounded were Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago. Shiite Muslims, including Hazaras, have often been targeted by Sunni extremists in Baluchistan Province, where Quetta is the capital, Karachi and northwestern Pakistan.
At the blast site, members of the Hazara community helped authorities dig through rubble to find the dead or survivors. Most of their efforts were focused on a two-story building that was completely destroyed. More than 20 shops nearby were also demolished.
Clothing and shoes were scattered through the concrete rubble, broken steel bars and shattered wooden window frames littering the streets. One of those helping, 40-year-old Qurban Ali, was instructing young people to be patient and careful while removing the rubble, lest they hurt themselves or survivors still buried in the debris. His cousin, Abbas, was still missing after the blast.
Like many Hazaras, he lashed out at the people who perpetrated the violence.
“Who are these people who made us Hazara so grim and sad? Why are they after us?” he asked. “Not one month or week passes here without the killing of a member of the Hazara community ... Why is the government — both central and provincial — so lethargic in protecting Shiites?”
Near the rubble, a group of more than 50 women were wailing and beating their heads in mourning.
On the road to the neighborhood where the attack occurred, Hazara youth burned tires and chanted for the arrests of the killers. A number of Shiite groups also staged a sit-in and were demanding the immediate removal of the chief secretary of Baluchistan and the top police official, said Rahim Jaffery, who heads a Shiite organization called the Council for the Protection of Mourning.
“We are demanding the city [protection] be handed over to the army so that the killing of Hazara Shiites can be stopped,” he said.
Jaffery said a mass funeral for the victims had been planned for yesterday afternoon, but all Shiite groups were meeting to decide whether to stage a protest similar to one last month, when they refused to bury their dead for four days.
That protest led the prime minister to sack the chief minister of the province and his Cabinet and put Baluchistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi directly in charge of the region — a move that many Shiites thought would help protect their community.
However, the governor’s comments revealed his frustration at a job that is growing ever more difficult.
Magsi said the blast was the result of a failure of the security and intelligence agencies in the province.
“Officials and personnel of these institutions are scared [of the terrorists]. Therefore they don’t take action against them,” he said in comments that were broadcast on local television.
A militant group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi called one local TV station to claim responsibility for the attack. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to operate fairly freely in their war against Shiites.