The Punjab government must stop supporting extremist groups that target Shias and quickly bring to justice the murderers of a prominent Shia doctor, demanded the participants of a sit-in protesting against violence against the community here on Monday.
The protest outside Governor’s House organised by the Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM), which began around noon on Sunday after a bombing targeting Quetta’s Hazaras that killed over 80 people, was called off briefly late on Sunday night amidst reports of a deal with the government.
But the protesters regrouped on Monday morning as, MWM Punjab Information Secretary Mazhair Shigri said, the government failed to meet the group’s demands. Hundreds of people participated in the protest and they were determined to continue until the government accepted their demands, Shigri said.
An eight-point agenda, issued by MWM Central Deputy Secretary General Allama Ameen Shaheedi, included the demands that the army take control of Balochistan, particularly Quetta; that targeted operations be carried out against the perpetrators of the attack, believed to be Laskhar-i-Jhangvi; that the government issue arms licences to members of the public for their protection; that extremists be uprooted from the security apparatus and law enforcement agencies including the police and the army; that immediate action be taken against banned organisations still functioning in Balochistan; that anti-Shia walk-chalking in Quetta and support of extremist groups by local print media be stopped; that supporters of former Balochistan chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani be removed from the provincial administration; and that elements in the provincial government with a “soft spot” for extremist groups like Laskhar-i-Jhangvi be ousted.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Shigri termed the killing of Dr Ali Haider in Lahore on Monday morning a targeted assassination. “Let there be no mistake: this was a direct attack on the Shia population with the aim to harass and corner us,” he said.
He said that the protest outside Governor’s House sought justice not just for the killings in Quetta, but also that of Dr Haider. “The Punjab government must stop backing extremist outfits,” he stated.
“We are not afraid of death,” said Ghazal Bukhari, a member of the MWM women’s wing volunteering for security work at the women’s section of the sit-in. “We have a right to life and this right must be respected by the government,” she added.
Huma Taqvi, a mother of three who joined the protest since it began on Sunday, said that despite the government’s failure to provide security, the Shia community could not be scared off by extremists.
“It is quite clear that they want to wipe us out, but we have resolved to make ourselves heard,” said Taqvi. “The real question is, will Lahore change into Quetta? And what is the government doing about this situation?”
Shigri said that protests had also been staged at Imamia Colony, Thokar Niaz Beg and Chungi Amr Sidhu, where the protesters briefly held up a Metro Bus.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2013.