Friends and relatives of victims grieve at the scene of a bomb blast outside a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Aug. 8, 2016.
Friends and relatives of victims grieve at the scene of a bomb blast outside a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, Aug. 8, 2016.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - The suicide bombing in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta on Monday that killed 70 people may have targeted the legal community in order to multiply the impact of the attack, according to some lawyers and analysts.

“In light of available information, they are going after soft targets, and lawyers are a very important community,” said Ejaz Haider, editor for national security affairs at a television channel called Capital TV in Pakistan.

Lawyers in Pakistan are considered a well-organized, vocal community that gets plenty of media glare, especially since a lawyers movement from 2007 to 2009 partially led to the downfall of the former military leader of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf.

Multiplier effect

Ihsan Ghani, the man in charge of Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority, said targeting a particular community has the effect of multiplying the impact of the attack by rallying a whole community, a large group of people around the country, who all come out and raise their voices.

“When you blast a bomb in a bazaar, everyone still feels sad, but the reaction is not the same,” he said, although he thought it was too early to jump to the conclusion that they wanted to target lawyers per se.

“They wanted to target a community, and that community can be Hazaras [a Shi'ite minority group frequently targeted], Christians, Shi'ites, lawyers or students,” he said.

Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, told VOA how it planned the dual attacks, by first assassinating the president of the provincial bar association near a hospital of its choosing, knowing full well that his body would then be taken to that hospital and many lawyers and senior officials would gather there. JuA spokesmen said the group already had deployed a suicide bomber at the hospital, ready to strike once the crowd became large enough.

The impact of the attack was devastating — at least 70 dead, about two dozen still in critical condition and more than 160 wounded.

FILE - Victims of suicide bombing targeting a hosp
FILE - Victims of a suicide bombing targeting a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, lie on stretchers, Aug. 8, 2016. (Photo: H. Samsor for VOA)

More to come

The group promised more attacks would follow. Last week, the United States added this group to its list of global terrorist organizations.  

The same group had taken responsibility for an attack in March in Pakistan’s second-largest city, Lahore, in which more than 70 people were killed. That attack, it claimed, was against the Christians celebrating Easter Sunday in a busy public park.

It also claimed the assassination in Quetta last week of two men of the Hazara community, but there was no way for VOA to independently verify these claims.

“There is a pattern to these things,” according to an advocate in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Salman Akram Raja. “Various segments of society have been put under pressure in the past, have been made to feel insecure, and it could be a continuation of that dark strategy of making the society generally fearful and less confident as people go about their daily lives,” he said.

The other objective of this attack could be symbolic, Raja and various others said.

Critical of legal system

Multiple Islamist militant groups have claimed that Pakistan’s legal system is “un-Islamic,” and have demanded it be replaced with a more Islamic version.  

Whatever the reason, Haider of Capital TV said the timing of the attack was crucial.

“The force multiplier effect is a lot, especially with celebrations planned for August 14 by Southern Command,” he said.

Pakistan celebrates August 14 as its independence day, and Southern Command is a portion of Pakistan’s military deployed in the southern part of the country and headquartered in Quetta.