In a rare challenge, a Shiite Muslim leader publicly criticized Pakistani military chief General Ashfaq Kayani over security in the country on Friday after bombings targeting the minority sect killed 93 people.
The criticism of Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in the South Asian state, highlighted Shiite frustrations with Pakistan’s failure to contain Sunni Muslim militant groups who have vowed to wipe out Shiites.
“I ask the army chief: What have you done with these extra three years you got [in office]? What did you give us except more death?” Maulana Amin Shaheedi, who heads a national council of Shiite organizations, told a news conference.
Most of Thursday’s deaths were caused by twin attacks aimed at Shiites in the southwestern city of Quetta, near the Afghan border, where members of the minority group have long accused the state of turning a blind eye to Sunni death squads.
Shiite leaders were so outraged at the latest bloodshed that they called for the military to take control of Quetta to shield them and said they would not allow the 93 victims of twin bomb attacks to be buried until their demands were met.
The burials had been scheduled to take place after Friday prayers but the bodies would remain unburied until Shiites had received promises of protection, they said.
“They will not be buried until the army comes into Quetta,” Shaheedi said.
Akbar Durrani, interior secretary of Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, said scores of bodies had been brought out onto the road by the bomb site as a protest.
About 2,000 ethnic Hazara Shiites were sitting at the site of the attack with the shrouded bodies of those killed in the attacks, demanding that the army replaces the provincial government, he said.
Islamic tradition requires the dead to be buried as soon as possible, so leaving loved ones unburied is a powerful sign of grief and rage.
Violence against Pakistani Shiites is rising and some communities are living in a state of siege, a human rights group said on Friday.
“Last year was the bloodiest year for Shias in living memory,” said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch. “More than 400 were killed and if yesterday’s attack is any indication, it’s just going to get worse.”
The banned Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for an attack on a snooker club on Thursday in what is a predominantly Shiite neighborhood where the residents are Hazaras, Shiites who first migrated from Afghanistan in the 19th century.
While US intelligence agencies have focused on al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistani intelligence officials say LeJ is emerging as a graver threat to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed, strategic ally of the US.
The LeJ wants to impose a Sunni theocracy by stoking Sunni-Shiite violence. It bombs religious processions and shoots civilians in the type of attacks that pushed Iraq toward civil war.
The latest attacks prompted an outpouring of grief, rage and fear among Shiites, many of whom have concluded that the state has left them at the mercy of the LeJ and other extremist groups who believe they are non-Muslims.
“The LeJ operates under one front or the other, and its activists go around openly shouting ‘infidel, infidel, Shiite infidel’ and ‘death to Shiites’ in the streets of Quetta and outside our mosques,” said Syed Dawwod Agha, a top official with the Baluchistan Shiite Conference. “We have become a community of grave diggers. We are so used to death now that we always have shrouds ready.”
The roughly 500,000-strong Hazara people in Quetta, who speak a Persian dialect, have distinct features and are an easy target, Dayan said.
“They live in a state of siege. Stepping out of the ghetto means risking death,” Dayan said. “Everyone has failed them: the security services, the government, the judiciary.”