QUETTA: Shia families refusing to bury their dead after twin bombings in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern city of Quetta vowed to continue their sit-in protest yesterday until the army takes over security.
By late evening, initial crowds of hundreds of protesters had swelled to several thousand, all gathered on the main road near the snooker hall hit by Thursday’s twin suicide attacks.
Hundreds of women and children were among the demonstrators, braving the severe cold as they stood alongside more than 60 coffins carrying victims’ shrouded bodies.
Refusal to bury the bodies is an extreme position in Islamic society, where the dead are normally buried the same or next day, but families say they will not leave until the authorities agree to put the security and administration of the city under army control.
Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombings, which took place in an area dominated by Shia Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority and killed 92 people, with 121 wounded.
It was the worst ever sectarian attack on Shias, who account for around 20 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million population.
“The government machinery has failed, there is no protection for people in Quetta,” local Shia party official Hashim Mausawi said. “We will not end our protest until we get an assurance that the Pakistan army will take over security and administrative control in Quetta.”
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had sent federal minister Khurshid Shah to hold talks with Shia community leaders, senior administration official Hashim Ghilzai said.
A Shia party leader, Agha Ashraf Zaidi, said: “We discussed our one-point agenda — deployment of army in Quetta. The minister sought time and promised to contact us later after discussing it with the prime minister.
“We have made it clear that we will not leave this place nor will we bury the bodies until our demand is met.”
He called for the provincial government to be sacked and the army to launch an operation to arrest and punish the killers.
“We are forced to take this hard decision,” another Shia leader Daud Agha said. “We realize there is a problem in keeping the dead bodies in the open for so long but our concern now is the safety of those who are alive.”
In a separate protest, more than 500 workers and supporters of the Hazara Democratic Party gathered outside the office of the provincial police chief in Quetta as its leader Abdul Khaliq went on a three-day hunger strike against lack of security.