Shia massacre

A group of Shia pilgrims on their way to Iran in a bus were ambushed in Mastung, Balochistan, by armed men. The militants told them to get out of the vehicle, lined them up and opened fire on them after checking their identity cards. Twenty-six pilgrims were killed while eight others were injured. Most of them belonged to the Hazara Shia community in Balochistan. Three others were killed in an ambulance when they were taking the injured to hospital. Banned terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an offshoot of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), claimed responsibility for the attack. Last month, 12 people lost their lives while more than a dozen others were injured after a suicide attack at a Shia congregation offering Eid prayers in Quetta. On the second day of Eid, seven more Shias lost their lives at the hands of armed gunmen who opened fire on a minibus on its way to Parachinar in Kurram Agency.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemned the Shia massacre and urged the government to investigate the latest incident and “prosecute the officials of Frontier Corps (FC) and police who were responsible for this negligence and nexus with the terrorists”. According to the AHRC, “…[Balochistan, Kurram Agency, FATA] are the places where the contingents of the Pakistan army and its paramilitary force, the FC are stationed and controlling all the roads, besides having check posts all around the major cities…As a result, banned Islamic militant organisations feel at liberty to operate freely under the patronage of the law enforcement agencies.”

Ever since LeJ’s leader Malik Ishaq was released this July after 14 years behind bars, the attacks against Shias have become even more deadly. It is interesting to note that the LeJ has become active in Balochistan, even distributing threatening letters against the Shia community. Is it because they want to leave their home base, Punjab, relatively untouched and ‘safe’ for themselves? The Punjab government already treats the LeJ and SSP with kid gloves and its law minister is known to be close to banned terror outfits. Hazara Shias are peace loving and law-abiding citizens. They are soft targets for a bloodthirsty sectarian outfit like the LeJ. The less than energetic response from the government and the law enforcement agencies in Balochistan, Kurram Agency and FATA to sectarian attacks has only emboldened outfits like the LeJ. What is stopping the authorities from arresting the leaders of the LeJ when they do not hesitate to ‘claim’ responsibility for brutal attacks so openly? The authorities must not turn a blind eye to this emerging pattern of targeting the Shia community. Shias in Pakistan have been victims of systematic target killings for decades now. The government and the security agencies must protect them or this intolerance would eventually lead to Pakistan’s undoing.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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