As protesters hit the streets of all major towns and cities of the country against Saturday’s bloodbath in Quetta, the Shia Hazara community refused to bury their dead once again until the army took control of the Balochistan capital.
On Sunday, Quetta mourned the victims of the deadly bomb attack with a shutter-down strike as the death toll soared past 80. Many more, among them women and children, are still fighting for life at the major hospitals of the city.
The Hazara community had staged a four-day protest vigil with bodies of their loved-ones on their side following a vicious twin suicide bomb attacks in the Alamdar Road neighbourhood of Quetta on January 10. They called off the protest and buried the dead after President Asif Ali Zardari imposed governor’s rule in the province in an effort to stem the tide of violence targeted against the Hazara community.
Sunday was also the chehlum of the victims of Alamdar Road bombings. The Hazara community staged separate protest sits-in on Alamdar Road and Hazara Town neighbourhoods.
They demand the army take control of the city and launch a targeted operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the outlawed sectarian militant group that has claimed responsibility for most violence against the Hazara community.
The community leaders faulted the government for unabated attacks and set a 48-hour deadline for authorities to arrest the perpetrators of the Hazara Town carnage. “We are giving the government 48 hours to arrest the culprits involved in the killings of our people, or else we will launch as massive protest,” Aziz Hazara, the vice president of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), told a news conference.
“The government is responsible for terrorist attacks because its security forces have not conducted operations against extremist groups,” he added.
Aziz accused the government of turning a blind eye to what he called genocide of Hazaras. “The government had promised us protection against sectarian killers after the Alamdar Road blasts – it has not followed up on its promise.”
Attacks like Saturday’s could have been averted, had the government cracked down effectively on sectarian terrorists, Aziz said and warned that the spiraling violence could push the country towards “civil war”.
Seventy bodies have been shifted to an Imambargah in Hazara Town to protest the government’s apathy, Idrees Ahmed, a Hazara community member told The Express Tribune.
Arrangements had been finalised for a mass burial on Saturday night. However, it was put off on the call of a Shia representative organisation, Majlis-e-Wahadatul Muslimeen (MWM).
The president of the Balochistan Shia Conference, Daud Agha, claimed the burial was postponed due to the nightfall, but MWM leader Syed Hadi told The Express Tribune that the bodies would not be buried until the community’s demands were met.
Death toll soars overnight
On the other hand, DIG Operations Wazir Khan Nasir confirmed that the death toll from Saturday’s bombing has risen to 84. “Another 180 people are being treated for their wounds at Quetta’s hospitals,” he added.
Another police official feared that the count could go up because nearly two dozen injured have life-threatening wounds.
At the blast site, people continued to sift through the rubble of collapsed buildings on Sunday to search for survivors or casualties.
Relatives of the victims responded to an appeal for blood donations from the city’s hospitals. “The government knows who is behind all this,” said Mohammad Imran, a local trader. “If the government wants (to prevent it), no one can take even a kitchen knife into any market.”
Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, however, held the intelligence agencies and security forces responsible for the deadly blast. “The terrorist attack on the Hazara community is a failure of the intelligence agencies and security forces,” he said while visiting the victims at a hospital.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM REUTERS)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2013.