TAKING advantage of the prevailing state of lawlessness in Balochistan, sectarian militants have seemingly escalated their attacks against Shia targets in the province. At least 11 people were killed on Saturday as gunmen opened fire on a vehicle in the provincial capital; reports indicate that all the victims were Shia. The attack follows Friday’s incident in which at least seven people were killed when gunmen attacked the office of a private transport company in Quetta. Police officials say the victims were waiting to board a coach to Iran. Proscribed militant outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for both attacks. Overall, Balochistan is gripped by lawlessness. A nephew of the Balochistan chief minister was killed in a gun-and-bomb attack in Mastung on Friday. It is quite obvious that several fronts are simultaneously open in the province. Baloch political activists often turn up dead, while ‘settlers’ in the province are also routinely gunned down. Baloch separatists and security forces have also been involved in clashes. Exploiting such a situation where the writ of the state barely exists, sectarian terrorists have set their sights on the Shia community. Countless members of the Hazara community have been gunned down in targeted killings, while attacking buses carrying pilgrims provides militants with ‘soft’ targets.

Quetta is a transit point for pilgrims heading to the shrine cities of Iran and on to Iraq by land. A fair number of visitors choose the land route as flying to the holy sites is not an option for many people considering the high air fares. However, the state has completely failed to provide adequate security to these people. The government needs to put into immediate practice a plan to protect buses as well as bus stations, hotels and other points where pilgrims gather before their onward journey to Iran. Perhaps security forces should escort the caravans to the Iranian border in order to deter potential attacks. The government should note that if attacks targeting caravans continue unchecked, the reaction may spread beyond Quetta as people from all over Pakistan pass through or stop over in the city en route to Iran and Iraq.

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