ISLAMABAD, Jan 12: The reverberations of the tragedy that struck Quetta three days ago were felt in Islamabad on Saturday when religious groups and civil society hit the roads in protest.
Divided by ideology but united in grief both the groups demonstrated in different parts of the city as the sun set on a wintery evening. They were protesting the carnage in Quetta on Thursday when three blasts claimed over a hundred lives.
Life in the two cities was brought to a halt by the protests led by religious groups that blocked the main road that leads to Islamabad at Faizabad for several hours.
Despite the fact that the decision to block the road at five o clock on Saturday had been announced in advance, the city administration and the capital police kept sleeping.
As a result of the blockade at Faizabad, those commuting between the twin cities faced serious issues, while the traffic at the Islamabad Expressway was gradually cleared, but the IJ Principal Road remained choked as long as the protest continued.Led by Allama Amin Shaheedi, Deputy Secretary General, Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM), the protest was held by the cooperation of the Imamia Student Organisation (ISO), Imamia Organisation and other Shia groups.
When asked to comment about the protest, Allama Amin Shaheedi reiterated his demand that the chief minister of Balochistan province be dismissed and that the administration of Quetta be handed over to the army.
“No one even knows where the chief minister or the cabinet members of Balochistan are,” he said while talking to the media at Faizabad.
Referring to the protesters in Quetta who had refused to bury the people who died on Thursday, Allama Shaheedi said: “Bodies are lying on the street and the 50-member provincial cabinet is just as dead. They have not even appeared on the media to comment on the tragedy.”
When asked that the protest had disturbed the routine life of the federal capital and left hundreds of commuters stranded, Allama Shaheedi said that they resorted to the blockade as a last resort.
“Look at the indifferent attitude of this elected government, even after five hours nobody from the federal government has contacted us,” he added. “We have been left with no option but to come to the streets but we are not against anybody, neither do we have any political motive – we all demand an end to this killing of Shias.”
Though the traffic jam inconvenienced commuters, the protest was peaceful despite the negligible presence of Islamabad police.
The police claimed that their lack of reaction was out of choice.
“We want to conserve our energies for the march on Monday. We were also worried that if we interfered, the crowds would clash with the policemen deployed,” said a senior official of Islamabad police.
“Besides, it is not as if the protesters damaged any public or private property.”
The protest was called off at around 10pm.
However, the protesters will reconvene at the same spot on Sunday at 11am in the morning.
A parallel protest by a large number of civil society members was also carried out in a commercial centre of Islamabad.
Not only did they protest the blasts in Quetta that took the lives of Shia Hazara whose victims were mostly Shia Hazara, the civil society activists also raised slogans against sectarian militant groups such as the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-i-Sahaba. Both these militant groups are known for targeting Shia citizens.
Accompanied by parliamentarians and members of the Hazara community, some of the protesters carried placards that read “Stop Shia genocide” and “Why is the government unable to face the killers”.
This group of protesters gathered at the National Press Club and marched to the nearby Super Market commercial centre and blocked the road there.
Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah, while talking to Dawn, said that although it was difficult to arrange a sit-in considering the chilly weather, the discomfort of the protesters in Islamabad was nothing compared to pain of those who had been protesting in Quetta – sitting in the cold weather along with the coffins carrying the unburied bodies of their loved ones.
“We are in the federal capital. We hope that our protest will compel the government to pay heed,” she said.
At one stage, the activists’ slogans caught the attention of some madrassah students who objected to the slogans against the LeJ and the SSP.
However, they were dispersed by the police contingent that was guarding the protesters.
As evening fell, the protesters lit candles.
“This was not an attack on the Hazara community but on Pakistan and all its citizens,” said Bushra Gohar, MNA belonging to Awami National Party.
She demanded that the prime minister should go to Quetta and address the grievances of the Shias.
Faizan Ali, a Hazara, told Dawn that the sit-in would continue till the demands of protesters are accepted.
“We want to see if our rulers care for the people who have been sitting in Quetta along with the unburied bodies,” he said.