Gunmen have killed at least seven people identified as Hazaras , a mostly Shia ethnic minority, in three separate attacks in southwest Pakistan, police said, bringing the two-week death toll to over 30 people.
Senior police officer Shaukat Ajmad said on Saturday that assailants riding on a motorcycle opened fire on six people in a taxi in Quetta, the capital of violence-ridden southwestern Balochistan province.
The men were rushed to the hospital but died of their injuries.
Minutes later, two people, including a police offier, were shot and killed in a rickshaw in the same area. The attackers managed to flee after the incident.
Targeted violence against Shias, particularly the Hazara minority, has been on the rise.
In the span of a week, gunmen have opened fire on a shoe store, a tea shop, and a juice stand, all at the heart of some of Quetta’s busiest areas.
The latest violence has triggered peaceful protests from the Hazara community, who accuse authorities of not doing enough to go after the perpetrators.
Speaking about the alarming rise in targeted violence, Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the governor of Balochistan, warned on Friday of a risk of civil war in the province unless the security situation improved.
“The situation is slipping out of control. Target killings are happening on a daily basis despite the presence of paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), Balochistan Constabulary and police,” the governor said during a meeting with a delegation of the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP).
“We will be compelled to call out Pakistan's army… if the government does not check incidents of target killings,” he said.
On Friday, the HDP held a protest of thousands in front of the provincial governor’s house in Quetta. Smaller protests were also reported in several other cities in Pakistan.
Khaliq Hazara, the party’s leader, said the assailants have been emboldened by government inaction and were now carrying out attacks easily in the city’s busy markets.
Ahmed Ali Kohzad, general secretary of the HDP, said the tight-knit community of about 500,00 people “cannot go to work, cannot go to school” due to a constant fear of attack
Saleem Javed, a physician and blogger in Quetta who attended the rally, said the protesters called for action against Lashkar-e-Jangvi, an al-Qaeda-linked group which has taken responsibility for most of the targeted attacks.
“Lashkar-e-Jangvi operates from a particular area, we demanded a clamp down,” Javed told Al Jazeera. “We also asked for the federal government in Islamabad to take over the issue.”
As a result of a lack of local media attention, Javed said “the rest of Pakistan remains almost completely unaware, while it’s an everyday issue for the people of Balochistan”.
As the governor’s staff promised the protesters that their demands would be met and requested them to leave, another Hazara - an elderly guard at a market - was shot dead.
Many of shops and markets remained closed on Saturday, as the HDP called for a "complete shutdown".
Ali M. Latifi contributed reporting.