Anger, scuffles as Shias bury dead

February 21, 2013 - 6:57:02 am

QUETTA: Scuffles broke out yesterday as Pakistani Shias buried the 89 victims of a second major bomb attack in five weeks, which has highlighted the government’s inability to stem sectarian violence.

Shia 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 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 were held in other major cities, including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, paralysing key routes and neighbourhoods.

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

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

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

Shias, who make up around 20 percent of the mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180 million, are facing record numbers of attacks, raising 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 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 said four men were killed and more than 170 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.”

Security forces frequently detain people 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 1,000kg 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 a grave.

“How did terrorists transport such a huge amount of explosives here? The government will have to take 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 to the Hazara Town.

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

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