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Conflict

More Shiite killings in Pakistan spark outrage

Leaders of Pakistan's minority Shiite community hold the government and security agencies responsible for the sectarian killings in the southwestern city of Quetta in which over 80 people lost their lives.

Pakistan's unpopular civilian government is facing criticism over its inaction against the militant Sunni organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has claimed responsibility for the attack on ethnic Hazara Shiites on Saturday, February 16.

Hazara Shiites have begun their protest in Quetta. They say they will not bury the dead until a "decisive" military action is taken against the culprits.

Of late, Pakistan's militant Sunni extremists with links to al Qaeda have intensified their attacks on minority Shiites, whom they do not recognize as Muslims.

Similar attacks on Hazara Shiites in January killed at least 86 people after which Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf dismissed the Balochistan government and sacked former Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani. The federal government also imposed governor's rule in the province. Experts say the imposition of governor's rule has not improved the security situation there.

Smoke rises after a bomb attack in a Shiite Muslim area of the Pakistani city of Quetta February 16, 2013 
(Photo: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)

The militants used 800 kilograms of explosives, which destroyed an entire building

On Sunday, February 17, leaders of the Hazara community called on the government to take decisive action against LeJ and other militants organizations.

"The government is responsible for terrorist attacks and killings of the members of the Hazara community because its security forces have not conducted operations against extremist groups," Aziz Hazara, vice president of the Hazara Democratic Party, told the media. "We are giving the government 48 hours to arrest the culprits and after that we will launch protests."

Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, governor of Balochistan province, also blamed security agencies for the attacks: "The terrorist attack on the Hazara Shiite community in Quetta is a failure of the intelligence and security forces."

'Sectarian cleansing'

2012 was one of the deadliest years for Pakistan's Shiites. Human rights groups say that more than 300 Shiites were killed in Pakistan last year in sectarian conflict.

One of the attacks on an imambargah, a Shiite place of worship, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, killed at least 23 people and wounded 62 in November. On February 17, a suicide bomber killed 31 Shiites in the restive northwestern Kurram region, one of the seven semi-governed tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani experts say that although the lives of Shiite Muslims are under threat all over Pakistan, those living in Balochistan and the northwestern Gilgit-Baltistan region face a systematic onslaught by the Taliban and other militant groups. Some experts have gone so far as to call it a "sectarian cleansing" of Shiites.

In August last year, several gunmen, who were in the guise of Pakistani security officials, stopped a bus traveling from Rawalpindi to the northwestern Gilgit region and dragged the passengers off the bus. The gunmen asked the passengers to show their identity cards to ensure they belonged to the minority Shiite community, after which they brutally killed 22 of them at point blank range. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistani human rights groups accuse the country's security agencies of backing Sunni militants and failing to protect the minority groups of the country.

Pakistani Shiite Muslims mourn the bomb blast victims in Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta on Jan. 13, 2013
(Photo: Xinhua/Stringer)

It was the second attack on Hazara Shiites in less than two months

No action against terrorists

Shiite and civil society activists had welcomed the imposition of governor's rule in Balochistan, but experts warned that sacking the elected civilian government and calling in the army to control security matters could prove to be a double-edged sword for the insurgency-marred province.

"The imposition of governor's rule is extremely disappointing and despicable," said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of the liberal "Baloch Hal" online newspaper. "The way a democratic government - although corrupt and incompetent - has been dismissed clearly shows that Islamabad treats Balochistan as a colony where it does not respect the public mandate."

Akbar said governor's rule would not solve any problems until the government went after the militants. However, Sikandar Hayat Janjua, member of the socialist Awami Workers Party, told DW in an interview from Karachi that it would be foolish to expect the government to launch an operation against the Sunni militants.

"Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a militant wing of the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], and no organization would like to act against its own wing," Janjua said.

Failure of the state

Balochistan map

Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, is facing a protracted separatist movement

Pakistani analysts say that the Quetta killings have again exposed the risks the Pakistani state has been confronting for many years. If the government is seen as losing further control, it may risk disintegration.

Ali Chishti, a security and political analyst in Karachi, argues that the Pakistani state has failed to protect not just the Shiites but most of its citizens. "Pakistan is headed in a completely wrong direction and faces an existential threat due to its policies," Chishti said.

Many Pakistani analysts trace the origins of sectarian violence in Pakistan to the Afghan War of the 1980s. They say that Pakistan's former military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq made it a state policy to fund and arm extremist Wahhabi groups in the 1980s, using these organizations against the Shiites to kill Iran's support in Pakistan and to increase Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan.

London-based Pakistani journalist and scholar Amin Mughal said that the policy of supporting groups like the Taliban had backfired and that the Pakistani state was no longer in a position to control the situation.

"It is a logical consequence of state policies which are based on religion," Mughal told DW, adding that the only way out of the crisis was for "true secular parties" to come to power and change the course of state affairs.

DW.DE