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Quetta’s dead remain unburied

January 13, 2013

Shias demonstrate and sit between the coffins of bomb blast victims in Quetta on January 12, 2013. Shia families refusing to bury their dead after twin bombings in Pakistan's troubled southwestern city of Quetta vowed to continue their sit-in protest until the army takes over security. Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombings, which took place in an area dominated by Shia Muslims from the Hazara ethnic minority. — Photo by  AFP

As the devastated Shia protesters in Quetta continued their vigil over the unburied bodies of their loves ones, their grief was felt across the country as members of the Shia and Hazara communities and civil society came out on the streets of various cities of Pakistan on Saturday.

From Karachi to Islamabad, Shia parties such as Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) and the Imamia Students Organisation (ISO) as well as civil society activists gathered to protest the three blasts in Quetta on Thursday which claimed over a hundred lives – most of them of Shia and Hazaras.

On Friday, distraught relatives of the victims had begun a protest in Quetta. Accompanied by coffins holding the bodies of those killed on Thursday, they said they would not move or bury their loved ones till the army took control of Quetta.

By Saturday, a stunned nation appeared to have rallied around in support of the protesters by holding protests. In Islamabad, a protest organised by Shia groups blocked a main road for several hours. Although the protesters dispersed late in the night, they promised to return for a peaceful demonstration on Sunday morning.

Activists of the Shia Ulema Council, Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen and Imamia Students Organisation also took out rallies in major cities of Punjab and held a demonstration outside the Governor’s house in Lahore which continued till late into the night.

Sindh also witnessed similar protests as did Peshawar.

As this wave of protests hit the headlines by Saturday afternoon, the apathetic political leadership began to wake up. Till then they continued to be preoccupied with shenanigans such as the march of Maulana Tahirul Qadri; this is lent credence by the fact that the only PPP leader who visited Quetta on Saturday to talk to protesters was Khursheed Shah.

His efforts at placating the protesters proved ineffective. The only other politician who appeared at the scene was Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi, who did little beyond expressing his lack of powers and firing a few verbal rounds at the provincial government and Mr Shah.

The prime minister woke up late in the evening – metaphorically – to call the governor; grant police powers to the Frontier Corps (FC) in Balochistan, and order an ever missing Chief Minister Aslam Raisani to immediately return to the country from Dubai. According to his spokesman, the provincial head was getting his throat treated.

There were reports that the prime minister may meet some Hazara leaders on Sunday.

Other parties followed suit. Phone calls were made as the prime minister called his ministers and other leaders and Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida chief, called government officials from London.

The MQM held a press conference in Karachi where a distraught Hazara leader addressed the media. He could only lament that no one from the government had turned up to share the grief of the victims. The MQM leaders promised their support for the victims.

However, in Rawalpindi, where the military’s headquarters are located, there was silence. There was no word from the military that has been called upon to take over Quetta and which has been critised by many in the past 48 hours.

An ISPR official said the army can be called in by the civil administration and the provincial government.