Pakistan’s prime minister dismissed the government of Baluchistan province as the region’s Shiite minority protested the failure to prevent a series of militant attacks by refusing to bury victims of last week’s bombings.
Premier Raja Pervez Ashraf announced the administration’s removal after meetings with Shiite Muslim elders ended this morning and following demonstrations in other cities. After twin strikes in Quetta, the provincial capital, on Jan. 10 killed at least 86 people, Shiites demanded the government’s dismissal and the deployment of the army to bolster security.
“Our society is in the grip of terrorism and the entire nation is fighting against it,” Ashraf told leaders of Quetta’s Shiite Hazara community, which has been repeatedly attacked by Sunni militants, part of a wider offensive against the sect by guerrillas who consider it heretical. “Who are these people who raise the issue of Shiite and Sunni and talk about tribes? We have to defeat this mindset.”
At least 400 Shiites died in attacks in 2012 in Pakistan, according to a statement issued Jan. 10 from New York-based Human Rights Watch. More than 120 were killed in Baluchistan, most of them Hazara, the advocacy group said, condemning Ashraf’s government over its response to the violence.
Ashraf’s ousting of the local government came after several thousand people, including women and children, staged a three-day protest against the attacks, sitting alongside the coffins of blast victims and vowing that no burials would take place until their demands were met.
Sit-ins to support Quetta’s Shiites were held in several Pakistani cities over the weekend. In Karachi, mobile-phone services were suspended twice as thousands of people occupied some key highways, a step routinely taken in Pakistan to stop the remote detonation of bombs.
Baluchistan, where security forces are also confronting a separatist insurgency, will be run by the province’s governor, who reports to President Asif Ali Zardari.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for the double bombing last week that targeted a billiards club in a Hazara-dominated part of Quetta. A third bomb the same day in the city killed 11 people. The group is named after Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who founded militant anti-Shiite movements in the 1980s, a decade when army ruler General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq rolled out his campaign to build a more explicitly Islamic state in Pakistan.
Lashkar has conducted scores of bombings and shootings against Shiite minority in Pakistan. The U.S. State Department in 2003 listed it as a terrorist group, saying it had links to al-Qaeda and was involved with the 2002 kidnapping-murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
Following the prime minister’s move to oust the local government, Hazara leaders said funerals would begin at 10 a.m. local time today, according to the Geo television channel.
Those responsible for the carnage “should be given exemplary punishment and no one will be spared,” Ashraf said today, adding that the paramilitary Frontier Corp has been drafted in to improve security.
The governor of Baluchistan, Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, was twice elected chief minister of the province in the 1990s, according to his official website.
The leader of Quetta’s 500,000-strong Hazara community, Qayyum Changezi, told Ashraf 188 people were wounded in the nighttime strike last week on the Alamdar Road, a neighborhood heavily populated by the Hazaras. He said about 1,100 Hazaras had been killed in attacks in the last five years. Shiites account for about 15 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people.
Pakistan’s security challenges, which include a fight with the country’s Taliban movement and allied groups in the northwestern region, come as the government prepares to end its term ahead of a general election due by mid-year.