Crisis Watch: Pakistan

Sky Holmes 4 March 2013

On February 17 at least 119 people were killed in a series of deadly bomb blasts in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, Pakistan. Approximately 90 of the dead were from Quetta’s 500,000-strong Hazara Shia population. Pakistan’s Shia minority lives in a constant state of threat; the Balochistan government placed the number of Shias killed in the province between 2008 and 2012 at 758.

The Sunni Muslim militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the blasts. The LeJ in past years has been associated with a string of sectarian attacks from Shia street shootings to the assassination of former PM Benazir Bhutto in 2007. However, initial government inaction in this regard has been criticised. Coffins have recently covered the streets as part of a symbolic vigil and civilian protest against slow government responses. Only now are the coffins being removed following reports that the Pakistani police have arrested 170 suspects.

Few acknowledge the influence of LeJ in the NW tribal regions of Pakistan, where according to analysts highly-skilled LeJ members form the core of the Pakistani-Taliban group Tehrik Talian Pakistan (TTP). Some top TTP leaders were previously members of LeJ in Punjab, indicating the labyrinthine nature of what is already acknowledged as a vast militant network. In Punjab the LeJ have a strong electoral presence thanks mainly to the patronage they enjoyed during General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime. The heart of the crisis is that provincial politicians will not risk losing votes in upcoming elections by wholeheartedly combating anti-Shia terror networks.

Sky Holmes