Mass burials for the 84 victims of a bomb attack targeting Pakistan’s Hazara Shia community have taken place in Quetta, after three days of nationwide protests at the government’s failure to tackle sectarian violence.
Several families remained at the site of the sit-in and continued to refuse to bury their dead as a form of protest early on Wednesday, reported Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab in Quetta, despite community leaders calling off the sit-in after the government announced that it was carrying out a targeted operation against armed sectarian groups.
The protesters were demanding that the army be deployed to ensure their security, after the latest attack targeting their community on Saturday.
By the afternoon, however, all 84 victims of the attacks had been buried. Mourners lowered the bodies of the victims, wrapped in white cloth, into a long line of graves dug out at the local Shia cemetery in Quetta.
Earlier, tensions had run high at the graveyard, and some angry mourners pelted a government official’s car with stones, prompting security forces and then some protesters to fire into the air, Qayyum Changaizee, the chairman of the Hazara Qaumi Jirga told Al Jazeera.
No one was hurt in the incident, witnesses told Al Jazeera.
The government announced on Tuesday that a targeted operation had been launched against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the group responsible for Saturday’s attack.
On Tuesday, the government said that it had arrested 170 people in connection with the attacks, and that four LeJ fighters had been killed in a shootout.
Protests also occurred in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere on Wednesday, where demonstrators said that they would not end their peaceful sit-in until the protesters in Quetta held funerals for their relatives.
“Many people who lost loved ones, and indeed many people in the Shia Hazara community say that whatever deal was reached between their leadership and their government simply isn’t good enough,” reported Al Jazeera’s Tyab on Wednesday morning.
There has been no indication that the army would take control of the city, and parliamentarians in the capital Islamabad said on Tuesday that such a step was unnecessary.
Government taking measures
The government has said that paramilitary forces began an operation against LeJ and other armed sectarian groups on Monday night.
The government also replaced the top police officer in Balochistan on Tuesday, said Fayaz Sumbal, deputy police chief in Quetta. Sumbal has also been ordered to replace the chief of police operations in Quetta, he said.
“Our demands have been accepted,” Amin Shaheedi, a top Shia leader in Quetta, told reporters after holding talks with a government delegation sent from Islamabad led by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira. “We appeal to our people to go to their homes in a peaceful manner.”
Other community leaders, however, disagreed. Agha Hamid Musvi, a prominent leader, said the protest should continue until the army took control of Quetta. Another Shia leader, Rahim Jaffery, demanded the army chief guarantee the government would arrest the armed fighters responsible for the attacks and eliminate their networks.
Security forces ‘complicit’
Several thousand protesting Shias remained in the streets of Quetta on Wednesday morning, despite the rain and cold, down from about 15,000 at the peak of the demonstration.
On Tuesday, Information Minister Kaira announced that the government had arrested 170 suspects in connection with the attacks, and that the army would not be deployed.
Four LeJ fighters were also killed on Tuesday in a suburb of Quetta, the government said. Seven of their comrades were arrested in that operation.
Hazara Shia community leaders, however, have told Al Jazeera that they believed the police and paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) were complicit in the attacks on their community.
Last year was the bloodiest in recent history for Pakistan’s Shia Muslims, who account for about 20 percent of the population, according to Human Rights Watch. More than 400 were killed in targeted attacks across the country, at least 125 of whom were died in Balochistan.
This year has already seen two mass casualty attacks against them. In addition to Saturday’s attack, more than 90 people were killed by twin explosions in a Shia area of Quetta on January 10.
“We had refused to bury our dear ones with a hope that the government will take concrete steps by arresting the killers, but so far no attacker has been arrested,” said Mohammed Mahdi, 16, who lost his father in the bombing. He said he now fears for his family’s safety.