Onlookers gather at the site of a bomb explosion in Quetta on January 10, 2013. A bomb attack killed 11 people and wounded dozens more in a crowded part of Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta, police said.
Credit: Banaras KHAN

KARACHI, Pakistan — After four days of sitting in below-freezing temperatures beside the coffins of the slain, Shiite Muslims in the city of Quetta have begun to bury their dead.

But that hasn't quelled the anger or the grief. After two bombs ripped through a predominantly Shiite neighborhood and killed at least 86 people last week, protests spread to many other cities in Pakistan, sparking a conversation about the country's deadly history of sectarian violence.

In Quetta, families of victims of the bombings delayed their burials — in defiance of tradition — and instead blocked the streets, where they sat with the coffins of their loved ones. According to Islamic custom, bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death, as the soul is not considered to be at rest until the body has been buried.

Quetta's Hazara minority blame government officials and law enforcement for not ensuring their safety, and have demanded changes at federal and local levels.

The Hazaras, who are predominantly Shiite, came to Balouchistan from Afghanistan, where they were persecuted by Sunni Muslims, over 100 years ago. Initially they were welcomed in Pakistan, and many Hazaras rose to prominence in local and federal government positions.

However, since the 1980s, violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan has been on the rise. Lashkar e Jhangvi, a terrorist group with ties to the Pakistani Taliban — certainly not the only group to carry out sectarian violence within the country — claimed responsibility for last week's attacks.

Though government officials began holding crisis talks on Saturday, it wasn't until Monday morning that the protests ended.

Following talks with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, President Asif Ali Zardari dismissed the provincial assembly and instated Governor Zulfikar Ali Magsi, a Shiite, as chief executive of the province on Sunday.

Across Pakistan, protestors staged sit-ins to standing in solidarity with the persecuted Shiites in Balouchistan province.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of Sunnis and Shiites gathered outside the president's private residence in Karachi to stage a sit-in that lasted well past dawn. They demanded the removal of the Balouchistan chief minister and the deployment of the army to Quetta. Protestors also gathered near the airport and other key locations within the city.

“Why are the chief justice and government silent?” asked protestor Abbas Qazmi, who was part of a group blocking off access to Karachi's airport.

"We want to be heard," Qazmi said to GlobalPost. "We want the government to know that this is not just a fight by Shiites. I am Sunni. I stand with my brothers." A friend nodded in agreement.

"The conversation cannot end with the change of the provincial government," said Qazmi. "This needs to be a turning point in our collective consciousness. These are our Muslim brothers."


Related Stories