The governor of Pakistan's Balochistan province has launched a blistering attack on the military for failing to protect the local Hazara Shia community as the death toll from a bomb attack by Sunni militants continued to rise today.
“[The intelligence services] are either too scared to go after the terror-mongers or too clueless to even know who they are dealing with,” said Zulfiqar Ali Magsi.
“The terrorist attack on the Hazara Shia community in Quetta is a failure of the intelligence and security forces.” Mr Magsi, who took direct control of Balochistan last month after the provincial civilian government was fired following another Sunni strike, added that he had given the military a “free hand” to deal with the militants but they had failed to do their job and “pre-empt such attacks”.
The death toll from Saturday's attack, which struck near the main bazaar in Quetta city, has risen to 84 people. More than 20 shops in the area have been destroyed and rescuers were yesterday searching for survivors amid the rubble of a two-storey building that had collapsed.
Most of those killed belong to Quetta's long-suffering Hazara community, adherents of Shia Islam who migrated to the area from Afghanistan over a century ago. Saturday's assault is the second deadly attack the Hazara community has faced in a matter of weeks after nearly 100 people perished in twin suicide bombings at a billiards hall in January.
After that attack federal rule was imposed in Balochistan after days of countrywide protests. Control of security in the province was handed over to the army-controlled paramilitary Frontier Corps, who were ordered to take action against anti-Shia militant groups operating in the area.
Mr Magsi's condemnation of the intelligence and security forces, however, is being seen by some as a shifting of blame. Saturday's bombing has heightened denunciations of Pakistan's collective power elites, including politicians and the judicial system.
“The government is responsible for terrorist attacks and killings in the Hazara community because its security forces have not conducted operations against extremist groups,” Aziz Hazara, vice-president of the local Hazara Democratic Party, told Reuters.
In 2012, an estimated 100 members of the Hazara community were killed in various attacks. They are easily identifiable because of their distinct central Asian features. The killings are one element in a broader campaign of violence against Shias across Pakistan, with some 400 slain last year in total.
Pakistan is home to the second largest Shia population in the world. Shia Muslims represent about a fifth of the country's 180 million population.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a notorious anti-Shia group that has cells based in Balochistan, has taken responsibility for the two bombings. The group, considered close to al-Qaida, continues to operate with impunity despite the huge death toll of recent attacks.
As mourners continued to search through the devastation wrought by the bombing yesterday, members of the Hazara community vowed to return to the streets if real action wasn't taken soon against their attackers. “We are giving the government 48 hours to arrest the culprits involved in the killing of our people,” said Mr Aziz of the Hazara Democratic Party, “and after that we will launch strong protests”. Following the suicide attacks in January, victims' families refused to bury the dead until they were promised greater protection from the government in Islamabad. Muslim doctrine dictates that bodies must be buried by sunset the day after death, and the symbolism of the Hazaras' protest sparked outpourings of support across the country.
The attacks do not augur well for the security of Pakistan just months ahead of this year's general elections. A further slide into violence may make it difficult for voters to go to the polls safely.