News / Asia

    Bomb Targeting Minority Shiites a Failure of Pakistan Security

    Local residents stand over the rubble of a damaged market caused by Saturday's bombing in Quetta, Pakistan on February 17, 2013. Local residents stand over the rubble of a damaged market caused by Saturday's bombing in Quetta, Pakistan on February 17, 2013.
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    Local residents stand over the rubble of a damaged market caused by Saturday's bombing in Quetta, Pakistan on February 17, 2013.
    Local residents stand over the rubble of a damaged market caused by Saturday's bombing in Quetta, Pakistan on February 17, 2013.
    The governor of Pakistan's Baluchistan province has lashed out at the country's security forces for failing to adequately protect the area's minority Shi'ite Muslims.  Analysts tell VOA that extremists are taking advantage of a lack of national consensus on how to deal with militant groups.

    Governor Zulfiqar Magsi declared a day of mourning for the victims of Saturday's massive bomb blast, which left almost 80 dead and 160 wounded.

    The attack in the provincial capital of Quetta appeared to target the minority Hazara community - Shi'ite Muslims who settled in Baluchistan province a century ago from Afghanistan.  A Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for the bombing.

    Magsi said even though Pakistani security forces have a free hand to deal with extremist groups, they are failing to pre-empt attacks such as Saturday's bombing, which was in a crowded market area.
     
    "There are two possibilities: one, you can't trust them (security forces), the second is, probably everybody's scared, because they probably think they may become targets themselves," said Magsi. "
     
    Protesters fed up with the violence took to the streets in Quetta, the main southern city of Karachi and the capital Islamabad, demanding that the government take action.  Local Hazara called a strike and shuttered their shops.

    The banned Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for Saturday's bombing as well a similar attack in January that left more than 90 dead.  The group does not consider Shi'ites to be real Muslims.

    Analyst Rasul Baksh Rais says the Pakistani state simply does not have the capacity to deal with the multiple militant groups operating in the country. As a result he says, the focus is on the Pakistani Taliban and the Baluchistan nationalist insurgency, not sectarian violence.
     
    "It's not that the state has basically wiped its hands of minority issues, or the Shias being targeted," said Rais. "It's that it is Baluchistan - it's a place where the state's priority is a nationalist insurgency, and that, combined with a weak political government, has given space to Jundullah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to team up to attack the Shia Hazaras in and around Quetta."
     
    Jundullah is a Sunni militant group believed to have ties with al-Qaida.
    Former Intelligence Services member, retired Brig. Asad Munir agrees with Governor Magsi that the latest attack pointed to an intelligence failure. But he says stopping future attacks will require a national policy on terrorism -- and pressure to force the government and security forces to act.

    "If there is a consensus in the whole country that extremism in all forms is a threat to the internal security of this country, then we can handle it," said Munir. "This terrorism can only be handled by armed forces supported by police and other security agencies."

    To date, the government has been unable to craft a national policy on how to deal with different extremist groups operating in the country.
    Critics say Pakistan's powerful intelligence agencies in the past worked with militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to counter external threats, but then lost control over them.

    Although banned, the group still often operates with impunity.
    Human rights groups say sectarian attacks against Shi'ite Muslims have recently spiked in predominantly Sunni Pakistan. Last year, such attacks killed more than 400 Shi'ite Muslims.

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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