Pressure mounts on Pakistan to secure Shiites after Karachi blast
The bombing of a Shiite mosque in Karachi killed 48 and injured more than 140. Already this year, nearly 250 Shiites have been killed in Pakistan in such attacks.
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Managing Editor, Monitor Frontier Markets
Ben Arnoldy is managing editor for Monitor Frontier Markets. He has served as the Monitor's bureau chief in India and Northern California.
Middle East Editor
Ariel Zirulnick is the Monitor's Middle East editor, overseeing regional coverage both for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She is also a contributor to the international desk's terrorism and security blog.
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A massive bombing in a Shiite neighborhood of Karachi claimed two more lives today when gunmen opened fire as crowds returned from the funeral of some of those killed in yesterday's incident.
Pakistan's The News International reports that 48 were killed and more than 140 injured when a bomb went off as Shiites left a local mosque yesterday. It was the latest in a slew of suspected Sunni militant attacks on Pakistani Shiites.
Most suspect that Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is behind this attack, although no one has claimed responsibility so far. As The Christian Science Monitor reported last year, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi publicly declared that Pakistan's Hazara Shiites are "worthy of killing" because of their beliefs, which they consider heretic.
Over the past year, the Shiite community has grown more vocal in protesting the lack of security for their community in Pakistan. The Associated Press reports that local Shiites protested after the funerals today, demanding better police protection.
Thousands of people thronged a main road in Karachi Monday for the funeral service. Many beat their chests and heads and chanted "Stop the brutal attacks!" They called on the government to take action against militant groups responsible for the attacks.
"Terrorists are killing us everywhere, but the state is nowhere to be seen," said Intizar Hussain, whose father died in the bombing.
Last year was one of the deadliest for Shiites in Pakistani history, with more than 400 Shiites killed across the country, according to Human Rights Watch. But 2013, with nearly 250 already killed only two months into the year, looks set to top it. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the two other attacks with mass casualties this year, both in the southwestern city of Quetta, home to much of Pakistan's ethnic Hazara community.
After the first of the attacks in January, Hazara Shiite activists refused to bury their dead and instead blocked a road with 86 coffins. The protest captured nationwide attention in Pakistan, as the Monitor noted at the time:
The protests are also receiving support from beyond the elite who tweet and take up civil society causes. Populist politician Imran Khan also traveled to Quetta, addressed the families of the victims, and demanded action to be taken against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – something that politicians in Pakistan are often scared of doing for fear of reprisal attacks or angering the military establishment that many say backs the group.
The fact that one of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's leaders gave a public address in Karachi immediately following the January attack buttressed the perception that Pakistan was not trying hard enough to protect minority Shiites. Subsequently, Pakistan arrested Malik Ishaq and is talking tougher against the group, with the country's colorful Interior Minister blaming the group for 80 percent of the terrorist activity in the country, a figure The New York Times said "may be an exaggeration."
The Times also expresses some skepticism about Pakistan's commitment to tackle the group, writing that "[a]lthough the army has carried out sweeping military operations against the Pakistani Taliban since 2009, it has avoided a full-frontal confrontation with the country’s sectarian groups. In some parts of the country, the military and conservative political parties have faced accusations of collusion with sectarian groups."
Those accusations of ties between state elements and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have their roots in the history of the militant group. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is an offshoot of an earlier anti-Shiite organization, Sipah-e-Sahaba. A US Department of State cable released by WikiLeaks in 2011 state that the Pakistani government in the 1980s backed Sipah-e-Sahaba "in a move to counter Shia Iran’s influence in Pakistan."
Although Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has carried on the anti-Shiite agenda, it also joined forces with jihadi groups including Al Qaeda to combat the US in South Asia after Sept. 11, 2001, according to the State Department cable. The Pakistani government officially banned the group in August 2001. However, bans of such groups have been unevenly enforced in Pakistan.
The official ban hasn't dissuaded some regional leaders from suggesting that elements of the Pakistani state sometimes find the group useful, the Monitor reported last year:
Some [Hazara Shiite] leaders further allege that the government turns a blind eye to Sunni militants in the hopes of distracting ethnic Baloch from their long-simmering, secular nationalist fight.
Pakistan's security establishment has traditionally viewed ethnic nationalism as a more present danger to the state than Islamic militants, which it has used as tools of foreign policy across the border in Afghanistan.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has carried out attacks in Afghanistan, including a December suicide attack in Kabul that killed 80 people. Today, Afghanistan's Attorney General Eshaq Aloko said that though Lashkar-e-Jhangvi planned the attack, “it was masterminded by some spy agencies in our neighboring countries.” His comments are seen as a “veiled reference to Pakistan intelligence,” according to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
All eyes are now on Pakistan's response to the latest carnage in Karachi as protests mount inside the country against the sectarian violence.