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Pakistan Authorities Under Attack for Failing to Protect Shiite Minority

  • Ayaz Gul

Medics and civilians gather at the site of a bomb blast in Karachi, Pakistan, March 3, 2013.

Medics and civilians gather at the site of a bomb blast in Karachi, Pakistan, March 3, 2013.

Authorities in Pakistan are being severely criticized for failing to stop a wave of deadly attacks on the country's minority Shi'ite Muslims that has left nearly 250 people dead since early January. The latest sectarian assault came on Sunday, when a massive bombing in the nation's largest city, Karachi, left at least 45 people, mostly Shi'ites, dead, and wounded scores of others.

As in previous attacks, outlawed militants from Pakistan's majority Sunni population are the prime suspects in Sunday's deadly bombing in Karachi. The attack targeted a Shi'ite-dominated neighborhood in the violent southern port city, and most of the deaths happened instantly.

This was the third major assault on Shi'ite Muslims in the country since the beginning of the year. The previous two bombings took place in the southwestern city of Quetta. Sunni extremists do not regard Shi'ites as true Muslims.

The government observed a day of morning on Monday and offered financial compensation for the lives lost and property damaged in Karachi's carnage. Critics, however, have rejected these measures, demanding authorities arrest the culprits in order to end the deadly sectarian attacks.

Pakistani security forces have been battling domestic Taliban insurgents in the country's northwestern tribal regions on the Afghan border. However, the rise in sectarian attacks has now become a major concern for the authorities.

Imran Khan, the head of a major Pakistani opposition party and a harsh critic of the ruling coalition, says the violence is the result of the lack of an official strategy to deal with the situation.

“They have failed to stop terrorism, but specifically sectarian terrorism, which should be relatively much easier to handle than the border insurgency going on in the tribal areas," said Khan.

Lawmaker Bushra Gohar, a member of a junior partner in the governing coalition, criticized the security establishment and intelligence agencies for failing to protect Pakistani citizens.

"We need a critical review of our security setup," said Gohar. "There is a lack of coordination, there is a lack of will to do anything. And there is this fear amongst the public that maybe the security agencies are also involved in many of these incidents. We need to clarify these perceptions that are growing within our public that have lost faith in our security setup."

Local and foreign human rights groups say more than 400 Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan last year, while this year's toll has already reached nearly 250.

A Sunni militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for attacks on Shi'ites in Pakistan. The banned outfit is known to have links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In an apparent attempt to deflect criticism, federal authorities have repeatedly lashed out at government officials in Punjab province, where the militant group is based. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is alleged to have ties to the ruling party there.

Presidential spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar says the central government is taking all possible steps to deal with the "menace of terrorism."

"The government is doing as best as it can," said Babar. "Of course there is room for doing more. Pakistan, being in a state of war, is a victim of this (terrorism), but the important thing is that we have not lost our determination and our will (to fight terrorism)."

Terrorist and sectarian attacks, particularly the ongoing violence in Pakistan's commercial center Karachi, are seen as a major reason for the rapid decline in foreign investment in the country.

Federal Finance Minister Saleem Mandviwalla tells VOA that violence and street agitation are undermining business activity in Karachi, which handles more than 95 percent of Pakistan's foreign trade.

"Obviously, when these type of things happen, these terrorist activities, so business shuts down and things don't function. So there is an economic loss to the country and that goes in billions of rupees of loss (per) day, that the production does not take place and business don't run," said Mandviwalla.

Karachi has also been the scene of politically-motivated violence involving the city's major political forces. That turf war left more than 2,000 people dead last year, and the violence continues in the run-up to national elections scheduled for May.

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