Protests against massacre disrupt train, air services: Unbowed Hazaras refuse to bury dead
KARACHI: Anger and outrage replaced shock and grief as tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country on Monday to protest over the mass killing of Shia Hazaras in the suicide attack in Quetta three days ago.
From Karachi to Parachinar, and Hyderabad to Multan, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, people staged sit-ins, blocking main thoroughfares.
The protesters’ demand at all these places was the same: call in the army in Quetta and take immediate action against the extremist militant group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which in recent months has played havoc with Shias, mainly the peaceful Hazara community of Balochistan, through a string of attacks.
The majority of these protesters were Shia men and women, but at many places a large number of people from a cross-section of society joined in to make it a collective voice against violent extremism.
As expected, Quetta remained the most disturbed of all places, with thousands of Hazara men, women and children continuing their protest sit-in for the third consecutive day. Refusing to bury those who died in Saturday’s explosion on Kirani Road, Hazara Town, unless action was taken against the perpetrators, the protesters kept the coffins on the main street.Even a bitter weather was not enough to weaken the agitators’ resolve.
“Installation of lights and other arrangements indicate that we are ready to stay here till the government meets our demands and takes measures to stop Shia genocide,” a representative of the community said.
Nearby, Hazara volunteers kept digging more graves as the death toll rose to 89 after a few more of the injured died on Monday.
The volunteers were not sure how many more graves they may end up digging as several of the over two hundred injured in the incident continued to remain on the list of those critically injured.
An air of fear and uncertainty hung over the Balochistan capital, already reeling from an endless wave of bombings over the past few years. Traffic was negligible and most places of business remained closed.
Heavy contingents of law enforcement personnel were posted at all sensitive points in the city and patrolling stepped up.
Representatives of the Hazara community told Dawn that 73 bodies, 16 of them of women, had been identified. “Most of the bodies were of children and women and some were badly burnt,” one of them said.
The administration was unable to shift the critically injured to Karachi as most of the roads remained blocked the whole day. President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf had asked the Balochistan government to send them to Karachi for special treatment.
PUTTING THEIR HEADS TOGETHER: The Hazara Town tragedy and the protesters’ demand were reviewed at a meeting at the Governor’s House. It was presided over by Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi and attended, among others, by the Commander of the Southern Command, Lt Gen Aalam Khattak, Chief Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad, Frontier Corps IG Maj Gen Obaidullah Khattak, Police IG Tariq Omar Khitab and Home Secretary Captain (retd) Akbar Hussain Durrani.
“As the participants were unable to reach a consensus on calling in troops, they decided to approach the protesters with a request for burial of the victims after giving them an assurance that an operation against perpetrators of Saturday’s explosion on Kirani Road and on Alamdar Road (Jan 10) would be launched by law enforcement agencies, including the Frontier Corps,” an official said.
Home Secretary Akbar Durrani told a press conference after the meeting that the death toll had shot up to 89 after five injured people, including a child, died on Monday. He said 110 injured people were being treated at the CMH and 44 at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Hospital.
“The dead include 33 Afghan refugees,” the secretary said, adding that 55 refugees who lived in the area were injured.
Quoting from an initial report of the bomb disposal squad, he said about 1,000 kilograms of explosives, along with urea fertiliser, potassium and sulphuric acid (all easily available in the market), might have been used to trigger an improvised explosive device (IED).
“The terrorists used an unconventional method to carry out the blast. We are in a state of war,” the official said.
In reply to a question, Akbar Durrani said a decision to hand over Quetta to the army had not been taken so far and the paramilitary FC, which was a part of the army, would continue to play its role to maintain peace and order.
“Some hidden hands want to destabilise the country by engineering a Sunni-Shia conflict,” he said.
He said a committee, headed by Quetta Commissioner Qambar Dashti, would hold talks with leaders of Shia organisations to persuade them to bury the victims.
The home secretary said the government would pay compensation to the bereaved families immediately.
He urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide financial support to the families of Afghan refugees who lost their lives or sustained injuries in Saturday’s attack.
PLEA TO DOCTORS: Balochistan Health Secretary Nasibullah Bazai said 19 of the injured were in a critical condition and the provincial government was bearing expenses of their treatment.
He called upon doctors working in government hospitals to ensure their presence, saying that bomb blast victims were suffering because of their absence from duty.
In reply to a question, Mr Bazai said the district administration was being empowered to take action against elements involved in the sale of fake and spurious medicines.
Speaking to the protesters, Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen leader Allama Amin Shahidi said: “We will not bury the victims until an army operation against the banned groups is authorised.”
He urged the administration to shift the critically injured to Karachi immediately.
“Since law enforcement agencies have failed to ensure safety of life and property, people should be issued arms licences and the training to use them,” he said in a moment of undisguised disdain for officialdom..
KARACHI: The angry response to Quetta killings was widespread in Karachi and throughout the day people continued to block main roads by staging sit-in at more than a dozen places.
Right from the Shahrae Faisal to Clifton, at Teen Talwar, protesters refused to leave till our going to press. Train service for upcountry was badly disrupted as an enraged mob blocked the track near Malir, and several flights got delayed because roads leading to the airport were blocked by the enraged crowd.
In the evening violence broke out in Patel Para, near Guru Mandir, following a shootout in which three people were killed, including members of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and ANP.
Clashes between armed men and police continued till late in the night, with supporters of ASWJ resorting to violence.
Our Staff Reporter in Lahore adds: Rail traffic came to a halt after operation of all major passenger trains had to be suspended in the wake of countrywide protests against the Quetta explosion.
“Operation of 11 express trains from Karachi has been suspended, another six from Lahore will not be operated on Tuesday, while five will not leave Rawalpindi and Peshawar on Wednesday,” a railway spokesman said.
Agencies add: Demonstrations were also held in Islamabad, Peshawar, Hyderabad and a number of other cities and towns across the country.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced that a day of mourning would be observed on Tuesday.
COMPILED FROM REPORTS SENT BY STAFF REPORTERS AND DISTRICT CORRESPONDENTS FROM SEVERAL PARTS OF THE COUNTRY.