Anger, scuffles as Pakistan Shiites bury 89

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 8:51pm

Scuffles broke out on Wednesday as Pakistani Shiite Muslims buried the 89 victims of a second major bomb attack in five weeks, which has highlighted the government’s inability to stem sectarian violence.

Shiite leaders called off a three-day nationwide protest demanding army protection after the government promised those responsible would be arrested in a “targeted operation” and relatives of the dead compensated.

But for many of the mourners, the deal was insufficient.

Around 1,000 people, shouting anti-government slogans and beating their chests, quarrelled with community leaders who agreed late on Tuesday to call off their sit-in on a main road in the southwestern city of Quetta.

Similar protests had been held in other major cities including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, paralysing key routes and neighbourhoods.

In Quetta on Wednesday, an angry mob of young people and women, crying and screaming, initially refused to bury the dead, a reporter said.

Mourners pelted stones at the car of a government official, as the burials got under way, prompting security forces and then protesters to fire into the air. No-one was hurt in the incident.

As the bodies, wrapped in white shrouds and placed in wooden coffins, were buried in a row of graves, hundreds of volunteers formed a human chain in a symbol of solidarity and protection.

Shiites, who make up around 20 per cent of the mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, are facing record numbers of attacks, raising serious questions about security as nuclear-armed Pakistan prepares to hold elections by mid-May.

The 89 people were killed when a massive bomb tore through a market in the Quetta suburb of Hazara Town on Saturday. Suicide bombers killed 92 others at a Hazara snooker hall on January 10 in another area of Quetta.

Outlawed militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) claimed responsibility for both attacks. The government says four men have been killed and more than 170 others arrested, including a purported mastermind of Saturday’s attack.

But mourners said they thought nothing would change.

“We are in severe shock, we want the government to take visible steps,” said college student Kazim Ali, mourning a relative.

The army is our last hope. We want a comprehensive military operation

“The army is our last hope. We want a comprehensive military operation.”

Pakistani security forces frequently detain people en masse after major bombings but few if any are charged. Courts have repeatedly detained and released the head of LJ, Malik Ishaq, on bail, most recently last September.

Ali Raza, 35, asked how up to 1,000 kilos of explosives were smuggled into Hazara Town, the suburb where the attack took place.

“Why are they killing us? What is our crime?” Raza said, shovelling mud onto one of the graves.

“How did terrorists transport such a huge amount of explosives here? The government will have to take some serious steps.”

Soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps and police were deployed in all markets and on roads in Quetta city as the burials took place, while troops searched every vehicle heading towards the Hazara Town area.

Pakistan’s top judge has also demanded to know why the authorities had failed to arrest LJ culprits and took no action after the January 10 attack.

Chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry summoned senior officials to explain why they had failed to act on a purported intelligence report.

“Just go and get this Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. I am at a loss to understand why the law enforcement agencies have been unable to arrest these people,” he said Tuesday.

After the January attack, Shiites also refused to bury their dead for four days until Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf sacked the provincial government.