Pakistan PM orders operation after deadly bombing
ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistan’s prime minister ordered an operation Tuesday in the southwestern city of Quetta following a weekend bombing targetting minority Shiites that killed 89 people.
It’s unclear whether the order will appease thousands of Shiites protesting in Quetta for a third day. The protesters have refused to bury the bombing victims until the army takes control of the city and launches a targetted operation against sectarian militants attacking them.
A statement issued by Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s office that announced the operation provided no details about who would carry it out or who would be targetted. Shiites have criticised police and paramilitary troops under control of the Interior Ministry in Quetta for failing to protect the minority sect, which make up about 20 per cent of the country’s population of 180 million.
Pakistani Shiites gather around the coffins of bomb attack victims as they demonstrate in Quetta on February 18. Pakistan’s prime minister ordered an operation Tuesday in the southwestern city of Quetta following a weekend bombing targetting minority Shiites that killed 89 people. AFP
Radical militants have stepped up attacks against Shiites over the past year. Violence has been especially bad in Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital, which has the highest concentration of Shiites in the country. A double bombing at a billiards hall in January in Quetta killed 86 people.
The bomb that ripped through a produce market on Saturday, killing 89 people, was hidden in a water tank that was pulled into the market by a tractor. The militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as the one against the billiards hall in January.
The prime minister’s order did not specify whether Lashkar-e-Jhangvi would be the target of the upcoming operation. Shiite leaders in Quetta have also demanded the army go after another banned sectarian group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has also targetted Shiites.
The order simply stated that the prime minister has ordered a “targetted operation aimed at eliminating those responsible for playing with lives of innocent civilians and restoring peace and security in Quetta”.
Pakistan has launched numerous military operations against militants in recent years, but the focus has been on the Pakistani Taleban, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the state that has killed thousands of people.
Rights organisations have criticised the government for not doing enough to target militant groups attacking Shiites. They explain this apathy by pointing to past connections between the country’s military and militants, and also allege the sectarian groups are seen as less of a threat than the Taleban because they are not targetting the state.
Last year was the bloodiest in history for Pakistan’s Shiites, according to Human Rights Watch. Over 400 were killed in targetted attacks across the country, at least 125 of whom were died in Baluchistan.
With two massive bombings targeting Shiites in as many months this year already, 2013 looks like it could be even worse.