Violence against Pakistani Shiites spikes, as many killed

Violence against Pakistani Shiites spikes, as many killed

KARACHI - Agence France-Presse
Violence against Pakistani Shiites spikes, as many killed

Pakistani medics and civilians gather at the site of a bomb blast in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, March 3, 2013. Pakistani officials say a bomb blast has killed dozens of people in a neighborhood dominated by Shiite Muslims in the southern city of Karachi. AP photo

Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi shut down yesterday to mourn 45 people killed by a car bomb in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood, the latest in a series of devastating attacks ahead of general elections and in another signal Sunni militants are escalating sectarian attacks.

Traffic was thin as educational institutions, businesses and markets closed after the local government announced one day of mourning and Shiite groups three days of mourning for those killed in the bombing in Abbas Town on March 3.

The bomb exploded as worshippers were coming out of mosques, ripping through two apartment blocks, setting one of them on fire and trapping people beneath piles of rubble. Survivors were being housed temporarily in schools. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility. But suspicion will likely fall on banned Sunni extremist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has claimed major attacks on Shiites in the city of Quetta, and on the Pakistani Taliban.

Serious questions about security

Rights groups and ordinary citizens have strongly criticized the government for failing to stop sectarian murders and bombings and bring to justice those responsible. “Terrorists are killing us but the government is not taking any action to eliminate them,” said Mohsin Ali, 29, a Shiite whose elder brother was killed. “How long will we keep losing our children, our relatives?”

“The government should provide us with arms to deal with terrorists if their agencies are unable to bring them to book,” said Azam Khan, a Sunni Muslim who said he had taken several of the dead to a hospital. Karachi is plagued by sectarian, ethnic and political violence, which last year killed more than 2,200 people and routinely forces closures.

Pakistan’s Parliament is due to dissolve in two weeks in preparation for elections. But rising violence against Shiites, who make up around 20 percent of the population of 180 million, has raised serious questions about security.

Last year was the deadliest on record for Shiites in Pakistan with more than 400 killed, according to Human Rights Watch. The Pakistani Taliban has also increased attacks in recent months, leading to fears they could disrupt the election scheduled to take place by mid-May. Last month, the group proposed talks with Islamabad. But the government insists the militants must declare a ceasefire before coming to the negotiating table, a condition they have rejected.

Recent deadly attacks on Pakistani Shiites

Nearly 200 people were killed in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta in two major bomb attacks to strike Shiite Muslims from the minority Hazara community on Jan. 10 and Feb. 16.

A double suicide bombing on a snooker club on Jan. 10 killed at least 92 people, the deadliest ever attack on the community in Pakistan. The Feb. 16 bombing was the second deadly attack on Shiite Hazaras. 90 people were killed in a massive bomb hidden in a water tanker which destroyed a market in the Baluchistan provincial capital of Quetta.

The annual Ashura holiday on November was also hit by sectarian violence. At least 30 people died in five attacks in Dera Ismail Khan while about 100 have been wounded. Pakistan’s top court ordered authorities on Feb. 26 to develop a long-term strategy to protect Shiite Muslims following the attacks.