© The Financial Times Ltd 2014 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Last updated: January 11, 2013 8:58 am
Pakistan suffered one of the most violent days in its recent history on Thursday when as many as 120 people were killed in a string of terror attacks blamed on Taliban militants and Baluchi separatists.
Close to 100 people are reported to have died in twin attacks in Quetta, the provincial capital of the insurgency-plagued western province of Baluchistan. A further 22 were killed in an attack that targeted an Islamic gathering in the northern Swat Valley taking the death toll to as many as 120 people, with many others injured.
A senior police officer said from Quetta that the sophistication of the attacks was “unbelievable”. In the first of the double bombings in Quetta, a suicide attacker targeted a snooker hall frequented by Shia Muslims. Shortly afterwards a car bomb exploded nearby, killing five policemen and a cameraman from a local television station, among others.
Sunni extremists from the Taliban are known for their proficiency in the use of suicide bombings. But Baluchistan has also been a hotbed of separatist violence for years, with Baluchi tribesmen demanding the creation of a nation-state. The extremist Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attack, the BBC reported.
Thursday’s attacks were a powerful reminder of the rapidly growing terrorist violence in the region since last year. Numerous Shia Muslims have been killed in attacks by Taliban militants.
“In Baluchistan, there is no government and there is no rule of law,” said Sadiq Changezi, a Quetta businessman. He lost a brother in a terror attack last summer by Sunni extremists who targeted the family’s shop in the city. “Eventually, we just had to pack up and relocate because the government could not protect us.”
Thursday’s deadly explosions are only the latest in a long series of attacks and assassinations that have killed hundreds of Pakistanis in recent years, with the victims ranging from prominent politicians to health workers and children.
In its latest report, covering the month of December, the International Crisis Group – which studies and tries to resolve conflicts around the world – counted at least 87 fatalities in such attacks, many of them perpetrated by the extremist Islamists of the Pakistani Taliban.
Among the dead were nine people carrying out vaccinations to prevent polio.
Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, warned after Thursday’s attacks of the continued vulnerability of Shia Muslims in particular.
Last year, he said, “was the bloodiest year for Pakistan’s Shia community in living memory, and if this latest attack is any indication 2013 has started on an even more dismal note”. He added: “As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, [and] its military and security agencies.”
In Islamabad, a senior Pakistani intelligence officer warned that the attack in Swat was a chilling reminder of “continued activity by the Taliban in this once sanitised region”, referring to a campaign by the Pakistan military that broke the back of Taliban militants in that region in 2010.
In spite of the terror attacks in cities as far apart as Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar, mainstream politicians and foreign diplomats are hoping that the country can complete its first successful transition from one democratically elected government to another before the middle of this year.
However, the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari faces growing criticism from its opponents because of its failure to curb extremist violence.
On Thursday, Tahirul Qadri, a moderate Islamic scholar recently returned from abroad, renewed his pledge to march in Islamabad on Monday with tens of thousands of his followers to press for political reforms. He has said he wants to block the return of tainted politicians after parliamentary elections expected between March and May this year.
“There are parts of Pakistan where the government has no control. Internationally, we are seen as a threat,” said Mr Qadri last week in a scathing condemnation of Mr Zardari’s record since Pakistan returned to democracy in 2008.
Since partition in 1947, Muslim-dominated Pakistan has spent much of its history under military dictators and has fought three wars against neighbouring India.
Tensions with India rose this week because of skirmishes across the “line of control” that separates the armies of the two countries in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.