Pakistani police officers and local residents gather on January 10, 2013at the site of a bomb blast that targeted paramilitary soldiers in a commercial area in Quetta, Pakistan. A series of bombings in different parts of Pakistan killed 115 people on Thursday in one of the deadliest days in the country in recent years. — Photo by AP

NEW YORK: The Pakistani government’s persistent failure to protect the minority Shia Muslim community in Pakistan from sectarian attacks by Sunni militant groups, is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. The government should immediately hold accountable those responsible for ordering and participating in deadly attacks targeting the Shia across Pakistan and particularly the Hazara Shia in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.

On January 10, at least 4 bomb attacks took place in Quetta killing over 93 and injuring well over 150 people. Those killed included at least 8 police personnel and one journalist.

“2012 was the bloodiest year for Pakistan’s Shia community in living memory and if this latest attack is any indication, 2013 has started on an even more dismal note,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch. “As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military and security agencies.

While sectarian violence is a longstanding problem in Pakistan, attacks against ordinary Shia have increased dramatically in recent years, Human Rights Watch said. In 2012, well over 400 members of the Shia population were killed in targeted attacks. Over 120 of these were killed in Balochistan province, the vast majority from the Hazara Shia community.

Similar attacks targeting the Shia population have taken place repeatedly over the last year in Balochistan, the port city of Karachi, predominantly Shia populated areas of Gilgit Baltistan in the northern areas, and in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Human Rights Watch said.

Sunni militant groups such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi have operated with widespread impunity across Pakistan while law enforcement officials have effectively turned a blind eye on attacks against Shia communities. Some Sunni extremist groups are known to be allies of the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries, such as the Frontier Corps, Human Rights Watch said.

While authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects in attacks against Shia since 2008, only a handful have been charged, and no one has been held accountable for these attacks.

“Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board,” said Hasan. “Sectarian violence won’t end until those responsible are brought to trial and justice.”

Human Rights Watch urged Pakistan’s federal government and relevant provincial governments to make all possible efforts to promptly apprehend and prosecute those responsible for recent attacks and other crimes targeting the Shia population. The government should direct civilian agencies and the military responsible for security to actively protect those facing attack from extremist groups, and to address the growing perception, particularly in Balochistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas, that state authorities look the other way when Shia are attacked. It should increase the number of security personnel in Shia majority areas and enclaves at high risk of attack, particularly the Hazara community in Quetta. The government should also actively investigate allegations of collusion between Sunni militant groups and military intelligence and paramilitary forces and hold accountable personnel found to be involved in criminal acts.

“The Pakistani authorities’ are just indifferent bystanders to slaughter at best or callously supportive of those perpetrating these massacres at worst,” Hasan said. “By their inaction in the face of massacre after massacre and killing after killing, Pakistan’s political leaders, law enforcement agencies, judiciary and military are presiding over a collective failure to address the growing perception that they are either in sympathy with Sunni extremists or utterly incompetent and unable to provide basic security. Either way, this is a crisis that neither Pakistanis nor the world can afford to ignore any more.”

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