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Sectarian cleansing

December 31, 2011

Funeral after Hazar Shia killings, Quetta, September 21. -Photo by AFP

On Oct 4, gunmen stopped a bus carrying mostly Hazara Shia who were headed to work on the outskirts of Quetta. The attackers forced the passengers off the bus, made them stand in a row and opened fire, killing 13 and wounding six. On Sept 19, gunmen forced about 40 Hazara pilgrims travelling to Iran to disembark from their bus near Mastung.

They shot 26 dead and wounded six, then killed another three who were trying to bring the wounded to a hospital in Quetta. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.

Human Rights Watch has recorded at least 18 sectarian attacks on Pakistan’s Shia Muslims in 2011. Sectarian violence has been a persistent problem in the country, but more recent attacks have primarily targeted ordinary, unarmed Shia in the course of their daily lives. The situation is so severe that it now reflects a policy of targeted killing of innocent members of the Shia community by Sunni extremist organisations.

Militant groups such as the supposedly banned LeJ operate with impunity even in areas where state authority is well established. In Balochistan, some Sunni extremist groups are widely viewed as going unchallenged by the military, its intelligence agencies and the paramilitary Frontier Corps.

Pakistani and international human rights organisations have made numerous appeals that those responsible for the attacks be held to account. While authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects, no one has been charged in these attacks, and the failure to break up the extremist groups that carry them out calls into question the state’s commitment to protecting all Pakistanis. The tolerance of Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders for extremist groups is only killing their own citizens.

— Ali Dayan Hasan is Pakistan director, Human Rights Watch