As the Hazara community in Quetta refused to bury their dead even after three days of the bomb blasts, support poured in across the country.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Karachi to protest against the targeted killing of a particular community, forcing the government to shut down cellular services in Defence and Clifton fearing further terrorist attacks.
The sit-in that was limited to Numaish and Ancholi till Saturday, spread out to almost all Shia-dominated areas on Sunday, as protesters, including women, children and elderly people, blocked roads in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Orangi Town, Nagan Chowrangi, Landhi, Malir, Korangi, North Nazimabad, Rizvia Society, Bilawal House Chowrangi and Gulshan-e-Maymar.
All link roads to Karachi – National Highway, Super Highway and Northern Bypass – and even the railways tracks were blocked by protesters. In the evening, they staged a sit-in at the Star Gate on Shahrae Faisal, blocking off the road to the Karachi airport. A Pakistan International Airlines van and a Karachi Electricity Supply Company truck were among five vehicles set on fire in different areas of the city.
The demonstrations escalated on the day already declared for mourning by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. The city wore a deserted look as almost all major shopping centres, markets and petrol pumps remained closed throughout the day as the business community pulled down the shutters against the killings of over 100 people in Quetta’s twin blasts,
Later in the day, the epicentre of the protests shifted toward the Bilawal House – the presidential camp in Karachi. All routes leading to the Bilawal Chowrangi were barricaded as President Asif Ali Zardari was inside, but the protesters started pouring in the surrounding areas to express solidarity with the Hazara community.
At around 7pm, mobile phone services went off air in Clifton and Defence for the next three hours, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chief Sajjad Awan.
“Enough is enough,” said Ali Abbas, a young protester in Ancholi. “Targeted killings, bomb blasts… till when will be killed in such attacks?”
The protesters, holding up placards, warned of continuing their protest until the removal of Balochistan government and the deployment of Pakistan Army in Quetta.
The government has failed to provide security to the people as members of the Hazara or Shia community are frequently targeted, especially in Quetta and Karachi, said Maulana Sadiq Raza Taqvi, the Karachi general secretary of Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), which is organising the planned sit-ins along with the Shia Ulema Council.
To show solidarity with the protesters, leaders of various political parties on Sunday participated and addressed the central sit-in at Numaish Chorangi, MA Jinnah Road. The demonstration has been continuing for 36 hours now.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s deputy convenor Farooq Sattar, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Sindh chief Dr Merajul Huda Siddiqui and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s secretary general Dr Arif Alvi were among the leaders who expressed their support to the cause. All Pakistan Muslim League president, Pervez Musharraf, also addressed the participants via a telephonic link.
For the past 20 hours, all traffic between Sindh and other provinces has been blocked. Thousands of Shia activists have blocked the National Highway near Babarloi Bypass some five kilometres away from Sukkur to vent their anger against Quetta bomb blasts. A large number of women and children are also among the protesters.
The situation is not much different in Khairpur, Ranipur, Gambat, Kandiyaro, Moro, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Mirpur Mathelo and Ghotki where all main roads have been blocked.
The protesters have vowed to continue their sit-in until their demands are met.
At some places, free food and water was distributed among the protesters by various volunteer organisations. Many cities and towns of upper Sindh also observed a shutter down strike to express solidarity with the grieving families of Quetta.
Passengers travelling in inter-province buses have been severely affected due to the blockade. Most of the vehicles have been parked at large petrol pumps and hotels along the National Highway, where according to reports, a severe shortage of food items is being experienced.
Thousands of people began to converge on the Hyderabad Bypass, which connects Karachi to upper Sindh and Punjab, on Saturday afternoon. By 3 pm, the highway was blocked with a sit-in, which continued when this report was written. “We will not go unless the demands of the Quetta protesters are accepted,” vowed MWM leader Allama Imdad Hussain Naseemi, who led the sit-in.
“We have suffered enough,” said Syed Yawar Shah, a young religious scholar, who sat among the protesters. “We have shown patience over the killing of thousands of our people since the reign of Ziaul Haq. Not anymore!”
Rallies, sit-ins and demonstrations were also staged in Sanghar, Tando Muhammad Khan, Badin, Thatta, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Tando Allahyar and Dadu districts.
Although the protests remained largely peaceful, a mishap in Kunri town of Umerkot left six men injured during a clash between the protesters and over half a dozen men belonging to the Pakhtun community. In Tandojam, two men in a car fired aerial shots to disperse the protesters but were arrested by the Rahuki police. They were identified as Anwar Saandh and Ghulam Rasool Saandh.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2013.