ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Angry Shi'ite Muslims have taken to the streets in predominantly Sunni Pakistan to protest against Saturday's bombing in a southwestern city that killed 89 people and wounded more than 200 others. Militant attacks have become routine in recent years, but lately, Pakistan has witnessed an increase in the sectarian violence that has left nearly 200 Shi'ites dead since January.
For the second consecutive day, thousands of Shi'ite Hazaras staged a sit-in protest in Quetta and demanded that security forces protect them from Sunni militants. Relatives have refused to bury their loved ones until the army restores order in the southwestern Pakistani city and the perpetrators of Saturday's violence are brought to justice.
The bombing ripped through a crowded market in Quetta and instantly killed dozens of people, a majority of them Shi'ite Muslims. Protesters also took to the streets in other Pakistani cities, including Karachi, the country's commercial center.
No military intervention yet
Baluchistan's home secretary, Akbar Hussain Durrani, said the government has no plans to call in the military, adding that about 3,000 personnel of the paramilitary Frontier Corps [FC] already are assisting the police force in maintaining law and order.
"The army is not the issue. The issue is how we can protect the people. We have deployed the FC. If worse comes worse and if we think the FC is not sufficient, then army can be called, but at the moment we don’t require that effort," said Durrani.
The sectarian attack happened more than a month after a double bombing in a predominantly Hazara neighborhood of the violence-hit city killed 92 people. Angry protesters also had refused to bury the victims of that attack until the provincial government was dismissed for failing to check the violence.
A banned Sunni militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for both of the bombings. Pakistan is a predominantly Sunni nation where extremists within the Muslim sect consider Shi'ites to be heretics.
Addressing a gathering in Islamabad Monday evening, President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the Quetta attack and suggested the violence is meant to destabilize Pakistan.
"I am grieved and my heart goes out to the people who are being terrorized by the terrorists in Quetta. Inshallah [God Willing] we will move on, progress will move on," said Zardari.
Human rights issues
Human rights groups have criticized Pakistani authorities for not doing enough to uproot militant organizations and bring sectarian killers to justice. Pakistani anti-terrorism courts also are under fire for a high rate of acquittals of suspects involved in terrorist and sectarian attacks.
But in a speech to senior judges Saturday in Islamabad, Pakistan's Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, blamed the government for what he called ineffective implementation of anti-terrorism laws. He said the violence is encouraged by the government's failure to protect witnesses, judges and investigators.
"The witnesses usually avoid coming forward to depose against the culprits, especially in the cases of terrorism and sectarian killing, because of the matter of the safety and their protection. If there is no sufficient evidence, it is not possible for the courts to award punishment," said Chaudhry.
Separately on Monday, militants disguised as policemen raided the office of a top political official in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Authorities say the incident left five people dead, including four security personnel. Suspected domestic Taliban militants frequently have carried out such attacks to avenge bombings of their hideouts in the Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.