Thousands of women refused yesterday to bury victims of a bloody bombing and a strike shut down Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, as protesters across the country demanded protection for Shiite Muslims.
Up to 4,000 women began their sit-in in Quetta on Sunday evening, a day after a bomb in the city killed 81 members of the minority community, including nine women and two girls aged seven and nine.
The women blocked a road and refused to bury the dead until authorities take action against the extremists behind the attack, which also wounded 178 people.
The bomb, containing nearly a tonne of explosives hidden in a water tanker, tore through a crowded market in Hazara Town, a Shiite-dominated area on the edge of the city, on Saturday evening. It was the second deadly blast in Quetta in little over a month.
The sit-in continued yesterday at Hazara Town and near a local station, said Wazir Khan Nasir, police chief of Quetta, which is the capital of Baluchistan Province.
“We are going to resume negotiations with the Shiite community leaders this morning to convince them to bury the dead,” Nasir said.
However, a local Shiite party leader, Qayyum Changezi, said the protesters “will not bury the dead until a targeted operation is launched.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the bomb blast and called on authorities to act quickly against those responsible.
Sit-in demonstrations were held in several cities and towns across the country demanding an end to the killing of Shiites.
Public transport drivers and traders stopped work in Karachi yesterday after a Shiite party called a protest strike, residents said.
Schools were closed, traffic was off the roads and attendance in offices was thin in the city. Several political and religious parties have backed the strike call.
“We will continue our peaceful struggle for protection of the Shiite community,” said a Shiite party leader, Hasan Zafar Naqvi.
Saturday’s attack takes the death toll in sectarian attacks in Pakistan this year to almost 200, compared with more than 400 in the whole of last year — a year that Human Rights Watch described as the deadliest on record for Shiites.
There is anger and frustration at the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to tackle the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Activists say the failure of the judiciary to prosecute sectarian killers allows them to operate with impunity.
Meanwhile, suicide bombers stormed the offices of a top official in the northwest yesterday, killing five people in the latest high-profile attack as the country prepares to hold elections.
The government’s representative in the semi-autonomous tribal district of Khyber, Mutahir Zeb, was unhurt, but his deputy was seriously wounded in the attack as officials in the city of Peshawar discussed preparations for the elections.
There was no claim of responsibility.
The upcoming general election will mark the first time adults are eligible to vote and political parties allowed to operate in the tribal belt, parts of which are strongholds of Islamist militants.
Police said 12 people were wounded when two attackers opened fire and then blew themselves up at the complex, which contains Zeb’s office, police cells to detain suspected militants and residential quarters.
Zeb and a meeting of party officials and prospective electoral candidates discussing arrangements for the elections at his office were the target, senior police official Imran Shahid said.
Officials said one of the bombers blew himself up at the gate, outside Zeb’s office, and the second managed to enter the control room, home to the switchboard.
Jamil Shah, spokesman for the government-run Lady Reading Hospital, said five people were killed and seven others admitted with serious injuries.
Four security officials and a civilian man aged about 60 were among the dead, he said.