KARACHI: Outraged over a string of terrorist strikes that claimed the lives of dozens of mourners in Quetta, Bolan and Jacobabad since the start of Muharram, Shia Ulema Council (SUC) Friday declared a countrywide protest movement against the government’s failure to protect its citizens from sectarian terrorism.
“If we took to the streets the whole country would come to a standstill. And in that case you won’t be able to hold even local bodies election,” said SUC’s Allama Baqir Zaidai.
Adding to his statement, a rightfully angry Zaidi said that how much blood would it take for the government to wake up.
“We cannot take it anymore. We have decided to stage protest sit-ins across the country after Ashur. Karachi will be the focal point of our protest,” said he.
The SUC leader also warned Sindh government to launch a province-wide crackdown on the sectarian militants or get ready to face the wrath of his millions of raging mourners.
“If it continues to sleep on the job like this, we will make Sindh government an example… far worse than the government of Balochistan — under the former chief minister Aslam Raisani, who met a disgraced ouster after sectarian bombings in Quetta.
Earlier, at least 22 people were killed and dozens injured in a suspected suicide blast targeting Shiites in the southern Pakistani city of Jacobabad Friday, the top local official said.
The attack came with Pakistan on high alert for the mourning days of Ashura, during the holy month of Moharram, a flashpoint for sectarian violence in previous years.
“Many injured and bodies were brought to the Civil Hospital,” senior police officer Zafar Iqbal told AFP, initially describing the blast as a suicide attack but later saying authorities were still investigating.
Regional police chief Sain Rakhio Mirani told AFP that “initial evidence” suggested a suicide bomber was responsible for the blast, adding that a counter terrorism team had been dispatched from Karachi to investigate further.
The police chief also confirmed that at least six of the victims were children.
Civil Hospital chief Dr Altaf Wagan said at least 15 bodies and dozens more injured people had been brought in, and said that more wounded had been shifted to two other hospitals nearby.
The attack came outside the residence of a local Shiite leader as devotees were setting off towards a main procession in the city, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) from Karachi, Iqbal said.
Witnesses described the wounded being rushed to hospital by ambulance and auto-rickshaw, and said there were children among the dead and injured.
“We were some three kilometres (two miles) from the spot and heard the blast,” Jan Odhano, a rights activist in Jacobabad, told AFP.
“We rushed towards the spot. We saw people running here and there, some were crying and wailing, we could see blood on the clothes of some people.”
Most of the bodies he saw were children who appeared to be between eight and 15 years of age, he said, describing torn clothing and blackened flesh.
Provincial transport minister Mumtaz Jakharani, who was at the hospital, said protesters had gathered there with some damaging medical equipment.
“The doctors are scared of the agitating people,” provincial health minister Jam Mehtab Dahar told AFP.
“I call upon the protesters to calm down and help us treat the injured,” he added.
Witnesses said protesters were blocking roads at many spots in the city, the capital of Jacobabad district, while Khoro, the district officer, said he was trapped in his office by “charged” demonstrators who had set the entrance to it alight.
Some witnesses reported clashes between demonstrators and police.
Dahar confirmed that the injured were also sent to the hospital at the Shahbaz Airbase and the Jacobad Institute of Medical Sciences, with some airlifted to the nearby city of Larkana.
– High alert –
Pakistan had deployed some 10,000 troops and 6,000 paramilitary members to prevent sectarian violence during Moharram.
The holy month, which began Thursday, sees Shiites hold processions and gatherings to mourn the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Hussain at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq in 680 AD.
Hussain is equally revered by Sunnis, but hardliners oppose the public mourning of his martyrdom.
Sectarian violence — in particular by Sunni hardliners against the Shiites that make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people — has claimed thousands of lives in the country over the past decade.
Friday’s attack came a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque, killing at least 11 Shiites including six children in the town of Chalgari in restive Baluchistan province.
In July the leader of an anti-Shiite group behind some of Pakistan’s worst sectarian atrocities was killed in a shoot-out with police, along with 13 other militants.
Malik Ishaq and his fellow Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants, including senior commanders, were shot dead in in Punjab.
However political and security analyst Hasan Askari told AFP Friday that the fresh wave of attacks against Shiites shows sectarian groups are still active.
“Apparently these groups have changed the tactics of their attacks,” he said. “They are now targeting smaller cities because of the extra security arrangements in big cities.”
Earlier this year, a brutal attack killed 45 Shiites in Karachi in May. Some officials pointed the finger at Islamic State, the jihadist group that has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria, despite the Pakistan government’s long-held stance that the group does not have a presence in the country.