January 11, 2013 7:10 pm

Q&A: Sectarian violence in Pakistan

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Deepening sectarian conflict in Pakistan has led to an escalation in violence and renewed concerns over the stability of the country. The FT explains the mayhem of one of the bloodiest days in recent history.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN PAKISTAN?

Pakistan has experienced a surge in sectarian killings during the past year led by Sunni Muslims targeting Shia Muslims whom they consider heretics. Shia make up about 15 per cent of Pakistan’s mostly Sunni Muslim population of 180m people.

On Thursday, three bombs ripped through Quetta, the southwestern capital of Baluchistan, claiming the lives of at least 118 people and wounding almost 250.

In a separate incident on the same day, a blast at a religious gathering in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley district in the northwest frontier province killed 22 people and injured 60. Swat has been under army rule since a military offensive ejected Pakistani Taliban militants in 2009.

WHO CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE BOMBS?

The attacks were not co-ordinated and those responsible possibly all have different motivations.

The extremist Sunni Muslim group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack in a crowded billiards hall and also for a car bomb. Led by Malik Ishaq, the LeJ was banned in Pakistan in 2001 and designated a terrorist organisation by the US in 2003. It has strong ties with the Pakistani Taliban groups operating in the tribal areas on the Afghan border.

The United Baluch Army claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb in Quetta’s main market which killed 11 people on Thursday. It is one of several militant groups fighting for independence in the impoverished province which is home to 8m of Pakistan’s population of 180m.

WHY HAS BALUCHISTAN BECOME THE CENTRE OF VIOLENCE?

Baluchistan has been a hotbed of separatist violence for years, with Baluchi tribesman demanding the creation of a nation state. It is home to about 500,000 of Pakistan’s ethnic Hazaras Shia who migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan in the 19th century. They speak a Persian dialect known as Dari, have distinctive central Asian features, as opposed to south Asian, and have been targeted by militant Sunni Muslim groups.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING NOW?

Violence has escalated in recent months with Pakistan’s current parliamentary term ending in March and a general election scheduled to take place before June. On Wednesday, the ruling Pakistan People’s party, led by President Asif Ali Zadari, pledged the election would be held on time.

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