Bombings in Pakistan Kill over 100, as Shiites are Targeted

Pakistan on Thursday descended into the kind of violence that tends to occur in Iraq, with a distinct Sunni-Shiite cast to it. But the larger context was a spillover of enmities from Afghanistan.

Three bombs were set off in Quetta. The first targeted a pool hall in a Hazara Shiite neighborhood. When people came to the scene, including police and rescue workers, the attackers set off another bomb, killing many of the rescue workers.

People in Quetta complained bitterly about the lack of central government interest in their security problem. Pakistan’s government is weak and inefficient, and the government of President Asaf Ali Zardari is highly corrupt.

Aljazeera English reports

Baluchistan is a very lightly populated province, where only 8 million of Pakistan’s 180 million people live. Baluchistan as a territory, though, is huge and mostly desert and mountains, comprising 44% of Pakistan’s land mass. It is sort of like Pakistan’s Wyoming, only if Wyoming were nearly half the US. Baluchistan has natural gas, which its people feel is appropriated by other Pakistanis, so that they don’t benefit from it and even don’t have much electricity.

Its capital is Quetta, a city of 2 million. Quetta grew in the 1980s as Afghan refugees fled there, and after the US overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan, many of them relocated to Quetta.

Some 300,000 Hazara Shiites now live in Quetta, refugees from Afghanistan, which was occupied by the Soviets in the 1980s and then by the Taliban from the mid-1990s. Hazara are probably about 22 percent of Afghanistan’s 34 million people, that is, likely there are over 7 million of them. They are Shiites, unlike the Pashtuns and Baluch that are their neighbors, many of whom are hard line Sunnis. Afghans and Pashtuns often look down on Hazaras as menials.

Hazara speak Dari Persian and have distinctive East Asian facial features. They are said to be descendants of tho Mongol invaders of the 13th century.

There is a major Sunni-Shiite struggle in Pakistan that has cost minority Shiites hundreds of lives. The Taliban, hyper-Sunni fighters of Pashtun heritage, have a long set of grudges with the Shiites. There has been a deadly targetting of Hazara in Quetta for some years. The culprits are usually called Lashkar-e Jhagvi or Sipah-e sahaba (army of the Companions of the Prophet). They are technically banned but operate freely in the country.

On the other hand, Dawn newspaper blames one of the three blasts in Quetta on a Baluch separatist movement. [Not, as a kind reader pointed out, the bombings in the Hazara neighborhood but another one that struck Pakistani security forces.] Some Baluch may be upset about 300,000 Shiite immigrants.

Likewise, there is a Saudi-Iran rivalry inside Pakistan, with the Saudis supporting hard line Sunnis and Iran supporting Shiites. In that regard, Thursday’s events in Pakistan are part of a larger Sunni-Shiite struggle that affects Syria and Bahrain, as well.

On the other hand, Quetta is a major smuggling thoroughfare between Pakistan and Iran, and you could imagine ethnic gangs involved in a turf war (the kind of thing that happens in Karachi).

There was also a bombing in Swat Valley, where the Taliban have been weakened but not expelled by the government.

8 Responses

  1. Question: Is the uptick in cross-border violence with India linked to the escalating sectarian fighting in Pakistan? Finding a foreign scapegoat to take peoples’ minds off a domestic mess perhaps?

  2. Just wondering if there’s sufficient stats available to indicate the ratio of shiite to sunni casualties in targeted attacks by one side or the other in Pakistan?

    • I don’t have the stats, but my impression is that while there have been sectarian clashes, on the whole there have been far more attacks by Salafi/Deobandi Sunni hard-liners targeting Shiites than the other way around.

      Unlike Iraq, where Shiites are the majority population and in control of the government, in Pakistan Shiites are a vulnerable minority in most of the country and have little or no protection from the state authorities.

  3. Wasn’t there a really memorable Rogers & Hart song about all this, written way back in 1935? Something like

    It’s easy to dismember,
    Then so hard to forget…

    ?

    Oh yeah: link to youtube.com

  4. You are confusing the Dawn article after probably rushing through it. There were 3 bombs in all (in Quetta, not counting the Swat bombing at a Tableeghi Markaz). The first in the day targeting security officials in a bazaar by United Baloch Army, an ethnic separatist militant group, the latter and more devastating two (second one going off at the same place, after rescuers and responders arrived) in the evening targeting Shia Hazaras by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian Deoband Sunni extremist group.

    Dawn made no such implication that the night time bombings in the pre-dominant Shia neighbourhood, claimed by L-e-J as properly reported by Dawn, was by UBA at all, and only pointed out the earlier day time bombing targeting the security officials in the bazaar was by UBA.

    Not unlike most of Pak, it is possible there’s rising anti-Shia sentiments among the Sunni Baloch, however it is not the case here.

    I think the unlinked and unsourced smuggling claim at the end is unfounded sensationalist speculation. The majority of Pakistanis who are inclined to conspiracies and excuses for extremists will likely feed off it, the same way some ludicrously dismiss the carnage as ‘revenge by India’ for the recent skirmish at the Kashmir LoC.

    It is also not accurate in claiming 2 equal sides proxy war between Saudi and Iran, at least not any more in Pak. It is quite lopsided in favour of Wahhabi/Salafi/Deoband/Sunni Islamist extremism as evidenced in trends of overall religious violence including anti-Shia sectarian cleansing in Pakistan.

  5. It should be noted that Baluchistan, despite its rich natural gas deposits and other resources, has one of the poorest populations of any region within Asia. Pakistan has drained the lucrative natural resources from the region and returned litle to its Balochi inhabitants.

  6. Israel should be worrying more about Pakistan than about Iran – it looks to be well on the way to being the first major climate-change induced failed state, and the first with nuclear arms.

    • Yep. Who the hell is going to secure the nuclear weapons?

      States don’t collapse that often in recent years, except in Africa, where most of the governments have only nominal control over large parts of their claimed territory — this might be the place to look for precedent.

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