Pakistan blast victims end sit-in as demands met

Army chief meets protesters in Parachinar, wracked by last week’s twin blasts, accedes to demands for security revamp.

Parachinar is home mainly to the district's Turi tribe [Anjum Naveed/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Thousands of protesters in the northwestern Pakistani city of Parachinar have ended a week-long sit-in following twin blasts that killed at least 72 people, after the military acceded to their demands for better security, according to protest leaders and the military.

The protesters had been holding a peaceful demonstration following twin blasts at a market last Friday, the latest in a series of bloody attacks that have targeted Shia Muslims in the Kurram tribal area.

Earlier, following last week’s attacks, the protesters had come under fire from the government’s security forces, in an attempt to force them to disperse. Reports indicate that several were killed in that exchange.

Since then, demonstrators flocked to the scene, with residents arriving to take part in the protest from across the Kurram tribal district, located near the unstable Pakistan-Afghanistan border, about 280km west of the capital Islamabad.

The standoff came to an end on Friday, after a visit by Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa concluded with protest organisers announcing that their demands had been met.

‘Clearly discriminatory’

The demonstrators had demanded that the commandant of the paramilitary regiment responsible for firing on the protesters be dismissed and that a new security plan be enforced for the district with input from local leaders.

Protest leaders also demanded that local tribesmen be inducted into the paramilitary forces that secure the district and that a local militia be officially recognised in the new security plan. Greater compensation for the families of those killed was also demanded, equivalent to that announced for people killed in a devastating oil tanker fire in central Pakistan last week.

 At least 120 people have been killed in three separate attacks on Parachinar this year [AFP]
 At least 120 people have been killed in three separate attacks on Parachinar this year [AFP]

“The [paramilitary] Frontier Corps policy in Parachinar is clearly discriminatory,” reads the list of demands. “Instead of providing protection to the people they are involved in murdering them. As a result, the return of the Kurram (Turi) militia be guaranteed and Parachinar’s security be immediately handed over to them.”

“Those [demands] related to security, the army chief has immediately given the order for them to be implemented. And you would see the additional army troops that have arrived,” Major-General Asif Ghafoor, the military’s spokesman, told reporters on Friday.

History of violence

Parachinar, the capital of the Kurram district, is home mainly to the district’s Turi tribe, who are predominantly Shia Muslims. Shia Muslims make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population and have often been the subjects of both targeted killings and large-scale suicide bombings by the Pakistani Taliban and others.

This year, at least 120 people have been killed in three separate improvised explosive device (IED) and suicide attacks on Parachinar, including last week’s attack. Fifteen others were killed in a roadside bombing elsewhere in Kurram in April.

Following that attack, Pakistan’s army had appeared to attempt to quieten coverage of the protest demonstrations, saying they were an attempt to promote disunity.

“Ongoing malicious campaign of enemies of Pakistan which is also unwittingly being spread on social media is highly regrettable and we all need to be cognizant of it,” the military said, in a statement released on Wednesday.

 Shia Muslims make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's population [Caren Firouz/Reuters]
 Shia Muslims make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population [Caren Firouz/Reuters]

Protesters, however, insisted that they were not attempting to create disunity, only to express their dissent from the military’s policies and to demand better security.

“However many attacks have happened, we have never been told who carried it out,” Shafiq Ahmed Turi, a protest organiser, told Al Jazeera. “It seems that whenever a new group is made, we are always the first targets.”

On Thursday night, protesters lit hundreds of candles at the site of Friday’s twin blasts, to commemorate the dead.

‘Listen to us’

Protest organisers said it was a challenge to feed and shelter the thousands of demonstrators for seven days, but that they were able to do so because the community came together.

“One man sent us the Rs25,000 (about $250) that he was saving for his daughter’s wedding [to pay for food for demonstrators],” said Mehdi Hussain Turi, a local government employee. Children and young men are standing out there around the protesters for security … through the heat, through the rain, through everything.”

For Shafiq Ahmed Turi, the protest was a last resort, to get the government to pay attention to the needs of Kurram’s citizens.

“We live peacefully, we bury our dead every time. But this time we were forced to come out to the road, just so that the government and the army chief would listen to us.”

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera