Quetta killings spark angry protests
ISLAMABAD, Feb 18: Like elsewhere in the country, Saturday’s attack on the Hazara community in Quetta led to protests in the federal capital, Rawalpindi, Taxila and across the region.
In Islamabad, demonstrators staged a sit-in at Faizabad, where they called for the government, the army and the judiciary to take notice of the danger faced by Hazaras and Shias in Quetta.
Protesters who blocked the G.T. Road at Taxila for nearly seven hours said the first seven weeks of this year have already seen nearly 200 Shias killed in the country.
In 2012 – described by Human Rights Watch as the deadliest year on record for Shias – a total of over 400 were killed. The protests echo those organised by the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen in January, when attacks in Quetta killed over 100 people.
Addressing the protest in Islamabad, Syed Asghar Hasan Askari, Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) Punjab secretary-general, described Saturday’s attack, in which 85 people were killed, as “brutal,” and asked for help from the judiciary.
“If the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan can involve the court in petty issues, he should also take notice of these brutal killings. The court should take suo motu notice and hold an inquiry.”
In the evening, the Supreme Court acknowledged the protesters’ demands; sources indicate that the court will begin looking into the matter on Tuesday.
The protest in Islamabad brought together area residents, including women and children, with members of the Shia community and activists from organisations including the MWM, the Imamia Students Organisation, and the Milli Yakjehti Council, whose workers blocked Faizabad interchange in the late afternoon.
Protesters held banners and placards condemning the attacks on the Shia and Hazara communities, and shouted slogans against the government for failing to protect the lives of citizens.
Some called for the army to launch a targeted operation against terrorists in Quetta.
Sahib Abbas, president of the ISO’s Rawalpindi division, said that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack. Though LeJ claims it acts in the name of Islam, Abbas said: “The fact is that they are defaming Islam and Muslims all over the world by perpetrating such terrorism against people in their own country.”
After Abbas’s remarks, protesters were overheard discussing possible strikes against LeJ, saying that it is difficult to remain peaceful in the face of such violence.
Originally from Parachinar, Qamar Abbas, a student in Islamabad, said: “Why can we never target them? Let them feel some suffering as well.”
Older voices, however, attempted to calm the spirits of younger protesters.
Ikhlaq Kazmi, a long-time office-bearer in various Shia organisations, including the ISO and the Imamia Organisation, said: “We should follow in the footsteps of Hazrat Ali and Imam Hussain, who were never aggressive against any Muslim.”
The Milli Yakjehti Council’s acting secretary-general, Saqib Akbar, echoed his comments, asking the protesters to maintain the Islamic tradition of peaceful protest.
“All the Islamic parties have extended their support and sympathy to the Hazara community,” he said.
“Everybody understands that this attack is an attempt to create disharmony and discord amongst Muslims,” he added.
Islamabads protest was generally peaceful. In the evening, more women and children began to arrive at the sit-in.
Syeda Azra, from Rawalpindi, brought crates of bottled water to share with the protesters.
“We are here to speak peacefully against terrorism,” she said.
“We believe in the state and the rule of law. The law of the jungle cannot apply in this country. We will stay here all night to protest the suffering these terrorists have brought to our community.”
Protesters added that they will continue to demonstrate until the demands of the heirs of those killed and wounded in Saturday’s attack are met.
Protests occurred elsewhere in the region as well.
In Rawalpindi, the Shia Ulema Council organised a rally from Liaquat Bagh to the National Press Club’s Rawalpindi chapter, where they announced a protest camp would be established on Tuesday.
In Taxila, protesters and activists from organisations including the Shia Ulema Council, ISO, Jaffria Youth and Mukhtar Force staged a sit-in from 12 noon until 6pm, blocking G.T. Road and suspending vehicle traffic from Rawalpindi and Islamabad to Peshawar.
They alleged that a pre-planned conspiracy, involving the US, Israel and India, was targeting Shias in an attempt to sow discord between the Shia and Sunni communities.
They demanded protection from the government, along with compensation for the victims’ families, and warned of a much larger protest movement if the authorities failed to arrest those responsible for Saturday’s attack.
In condemnation of the attack, the Punjab Bar Council called for a complete strike by the legal community, and the provincial government observed a day of mourning.
At government buildings and educational institutions, the flag flew at half-mast in honour of the dead and injured.