Iran criticizes Islamabad's inability to protect Pakistani Shiites
TEHRAN - Pakistani government has failed to give enough care to the protection of the lives of its Shiite community, a senior Iranian lawmaker said on Sunday.
Member of the parliament's Presiding Board Alireza Monadi Sefidaan expressed deep regret over the growing trend of anti-Shiite attacks in Pakistan, and said that the long-term goal of extremist groups is massacring the Shiites in genocidal attacks.
"The negligence shown by Pakistan's central government has allowed these terrorist groups to kill Shiites easily and carelessly in an effort to change the demographical strategy of Pakistan to the loss of the Shiites," Monadi told ICANA.
He further lashed out at the international circles for their silence over these crimes and the extremist groups' genocidal attacks on the Shiite Muslims in Pakistan.
In the latest attack on the Pakistani Shiite community, a bomb blast killed at least 81 people, including women and children, and injured 200 others.
The bomb containing nearly a tonne of explosives, hidden in a water tanker, tore through a crowded market in Hazara town, a Shiite-dominated area on the edge of Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, on Saturday evening.
The death toll has risen to 81 after law enforcement dragged several more bodies from the rubble of the collapsed two-story building.
Several houses and shops were completely destroyed by the blast. Security officials said that an estimated 100 kilograms of explosives was used in the attack.
Following the attack, Iran strongly condemned the bombing, and warned that the terrorist attacks are aimed at sowing discord in the Muslim country.
In a message to his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani on Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi condoled with the people and government of Pakistan over the death of the country's citizens in the recent terrorist attack.
He said that such criminal acts are in line with the aliens' divisive plots against Pakistan's people and interests, and added that these crimes serve the inauspicious goals of the enemies of Islam.
Salehi also called on the Pakistani officials and religious leaders to take necessary measures to prevent bloodshed in the Muslim state.
Protests erupted across Pakistan Sunday to demand protection for Shiite Muslims.
Up to 4,000 women began a sit-in protest in the city on Sunday evening, blocking a road and refusing to bury victims until the authorities took action against the extremists behind the attack.
More than 1,500 Shiites took to the streets of the eastern city of Lahore to demand action and there were smaller demonstrations in the central city of Multan and Muzaffarabad, the main city of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Baluchistan has increasingly become a flashpoint for surging sectarian bloodshed between Pakistan's majority Sunni Muslims and Shiites, who account for around a fifth of the country's 180 million people.
Saturday's attack takes the death toll in sectarian attacks in Pakistan this year to almost 200, compared with more than 400 in the whole of 2012 -- a year which Human Rights Watch described as the deadliest on record for the country's Shiites.
It was the second major attack on Shiites in Quetta this year, after a double suicide bombing on a snooker club in the city on January 10 killed at least 92 people, the deadliest ever single attack on the community in Pakistan.
No-one has been arrested for the snooker hall attack and Daud Agha, chairman of Shia Conference, said anger was rising in the community.
"Up to 4,000 women have started a sit-in on a main road leading to Hazara town and have refused to bury the bodies," he said. Police said the protesters numbered up to 3,000.
Police and administration officials held negotiations with the Shiites to end Sunday's protest and bury the bodies, but community leaders told them that the sit-in would continue until a targeted operation against extremists is launched, he said.
It is customary for Muslims to bury the dead swiftly, and a similar protest after the snooker club bombing prompted Islamabad to sack the provincial government.
The banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack -- as it did for the snooker hall bombing and a February 1 attack on a Shiite mosque in northwest Pakistan that killed 24.
There is anger and frustration at the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to tackle the LeJ. Activists say the failure of the judiciary to prosecute sectarian killers allows them to operate with impunity.
Baluchistan governor Zulfiqar Magsi pointed the finger at the security forces over the latest atrocity.
"Repeated occurrence of such attacks is a failure of our intelligence agencies," he told reporters late on Saturday.
"Our security institutions, police, FC (paramilitary Frontier Corps) and others are either scared or cannot take action against them."
But Baluchistan home secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said authorities were already taking action against the militants.
"Law enforcement agencies have arrested so many suspects and seized huge cache of arms," Durrani said.
Witness Zainab Bibi, 38, said the carnage after the blast was "like the day of judgment had come".
"Initially I could not see anything because of a thick cloud of dust but I could hear loud screaming," she said.
"As the dust settled, I saw blood everywhere, torn bodies were lying everywhere with no clothes on."
Pakistan is due to hold a general election in the coming months but there are fears that rising sectarian and Islamist violence could force the postponement of polls.
Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, also suffers Islamist militancy and a regional insurgency demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region's natural resources.