Pakistani forces yesterday killed four men and arrested seven others accused of killing Shiite Muslims, including an alleged mastermind of a bomb attack that killed 89 people, officials said.
The operation was carried out on the outskirts of Quetta, where thousands of Shiites are demanding army protection and refusing to bury the victims of Saturday’s bomb attack on their ethnic Hazara community.
“Those who were killed were high-profile target killers,” Baluchistan Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said, adding that one of the masterminds of Saturday’s attack was among those in custody.
Hours later, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf ordered an operation aimed at “eliminating those responsible for playing with lives of innocent civilians and restoring peace and security in Quetta.”
However, the order gave no details about who would carry it out or whether it would targe Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack as well as the one against the billiards hall last month that killed 92 people.
Shiite leaders in Quetta have also demanded the army go after another banned sectarian group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has also targeted Shiites.
It was not immediately clear whether either Ashraf’s order or the raid would be enough to persuade Shiite leaders to call off protests, which have spread to Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, and forced the closure of the main road to the airport in Islamabad.
The minority community is furious at the authorities’ failure to tackle record violence against Shiites, who make up 20 percent of Pakistan’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, and prosecute those responsible.
The arrests came just hours before Cabinet ministers were due to arrive in Quetta to try to negotiate an end to the protest, which has seen thousands of men, women and children camp out since late on Sunday.
Daud Agha, chairman of the Baluchistan Shia Conference, one of the groups taking part in the protest, expressed satisfaction over the raid and announced that a time would be announced for the burials to begin.
However, the Shiite Wahdatul Muslemeen party said the vigil would continue.
Hundreds of Shiite protesters camped out overnight between the capital and its twin city, Rawalpindi, forcing authorities to close the main road to the airport and causing huge traffic snarl-ups.
In Karachi, hundreds of Shiite protesters camped out in at least 10 separate locations.
Amnesty International repeated calls for Pakistan to do more to protect Hazaras, describing the failure of the authorities to bring those responsible to justice as “shocking.”
“The failure to bring these perpetrators to justice sends the signal that they can continue to commit these outrageous abuses with impunity,” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director.
The group said at least half of all Shiite deaths were suffered by Hazaras, one of the smallest communities in Pakistan.
“In fact, the attacks in January and February constitute some of the worst killings in Pakistan’s recent history,” Arradon said.
Additional reporting by AP