Caught between alleged state incompetence and complicity in attacks, the war against Balochistan’s Hazaras has hit home.
The governor of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where at least 84 people were killed in a bomb attack targeting Hazara Shia Muslims, has called the lapse “a failure of the intelligence and security forces”.
Zulfiqar Magsi said that his government “had given a free hand to security [forces] to take action against terrorist and extremist groups, but despite that the Quetta incident took place”. He spoke while conducting a tour of hospital on Sunday.
At least 200 people were wounded in the blast on Saturday, in which an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated in the middle of a crowded vegetable market in an area frequented by Hazara Shias.
Community leaders told Al Jazeera that families were still identifying the dead, and that the death toll was expected to rise with several of the wounded in critical condition.
January 10: 117 killed, over 200 injured Alamdar Road
A vehicle packed with about 800kg of explosives caused the massive explosion and the blast caused several nearby buildings to collapse, officials said.
On Sunday, people searched for survivors under blocks of cement torn off from buildings by the blast.
A large blood stain could be seen on a wall near the site. Many shops and bazaars were closed. Relatives of the wounded responded for an appeal for blood made by hospitals.
Resucers and volunteers were hesitant to go near the blast site immediately after the attack, witnesses said, for fear of another explosion.
The fear of follow-up attacks targeting the Hazara Shia population comes a month after twin blasts killed at least 90 people on Alamdar Road, another mainly Hazara area of the provincial capital of Balochistan.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an armed Sunni extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday. LeJ also claimed responsibility for the January 10 attacks on Alamdar Road, which led relatives of the victims to refuse to bury their dead while they held a 76-hour protest sit-in.
In response to their demands, the provincial government was sacked and local paramilitary forces were accorded police powers.
Hazara activists, however, allege that the paramilitary forces are complicit in the attacks against them.
“Governor rule may have come, but the administration is the same,” said Qayyum Changaizee, the chairman of the Hazara Qaumi Jirga, adding that no additional security had been accorded to the community since the January attacks.
“We have grown tired of picking up the bodies of our loved ones. I have lost three family members so far in such blasts.”
– Nasir Ali, government employee
Syed Qamar Haider Zaidi, a spokesman for local Shia Muslim groups, condemned the Pakistani government for not providing protection to the community and announced three days of mourning and protest over the latest attack.
Azizullah Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, on Sunday gave a 48-hour deadline to the provincial government to launch targeted operations against the killers or face a protest movement.
Last year was the deadliest so far for Pakistan’s Shia Muslim community, which accounts for about 20 percent of the population, with more than 400 people dead in targeted killings. Violence has been especially intense in Balochistan.
Shia Muslims in Quetta and other cities say they are under siege.
“We have grown tired of picking up the bodies of our loved ones,” said Nasir Ali, 45, a government employee. “I have lost three family members so far in such blasts.”