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Authorities are taking action in Quetta to round up LeJ terrorists who killed 110 members of the Shia community.
By Zahir Shah
QUETTA – Pakistani forces reacted swiftly against militants involved in the February 16 sectarian bombing that rocked the Shia community in Quetta, killing 110 people.
Responding to Supreme Court (SC) guidance, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf initiated the effort to bring those responsible for the carnage to justice, according to a February 19 Prime Minister House press statement. Troops are battling suspects and making arrests in Quetta.
The outlawed militant organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility.
LeJ members blew up an explosive-laden water tanker in the Hazara Town, Quetta Deputy Inspector General of Police Investigations Ijaz Sumbal told Central Asia Online.
The 1,000kg bomb, which contained urea, potassium and sulphuric acid, ensured a high death toll, Home Secretary Akbar Durrani said.
The SC February 19 summoned the Interior and Defence secretaries to a hearing to discuss the bombing. During his remarks, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said that a previous attack on Alamdar Road was a good reason to conduct a clean-up operation.
"There should be a targeted operation against the outlawed groups who are claiming these attacks," he said.
Hazaras demand justice
While authorities were taking action, protesters in Quetta were lining the streets with victims' coffins on the third day of sit-ins as they entered an official day of mourning February 19. Sympathetic Pakistanis were holding sit-ins nationwide, vowing solidarity, but the protests were called off after a six-member parliamentary delegation and protesters reached agreement on how to respond to the attack.
Members of the Hazara community expressed anger and outrage, demanding the government do more to protect them.
"We want the army in Quetta and immediate action against the extremist militant group – [the LeJ] – which is playing havoc with lives and properties of the peaceful Hazara community," Shia community leader Daud Aga said.
The parliamentary delegation discussed an array of demands that the sit-in participants put forth. The agreement included a commitment to conduct targeted operations against the militants, but the government did not agree to give the army control of the area.
Security forces act
Frontier Corps (FC) troops February 18 killed four LeJ terrorists and arrested at least seven other suspects on Saryab Road – on the outskirts of Quetta – during a late-night operation, FC spokesman Capt. Shomail told Central Asia Online.
"They have started interrogating them, and soon more targeted crackdowns are also likely to be launched," FC Commandant Col. Maqbool said.
Authorities have arrested about 170 suspects so far, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Qiara said. The operations will continue without let-up until authorities have caught the culprits, he said.
"Our talks with the government delegation have been successful, and it has promised to fulfil our demands," said Maulana Amin Shaeedi of the Hazara Yakhjeti (Unity) Council. Protesters now should "end the sit-in and prepare for the burial of the martyred," he said.
Members of the public voiced support while continuing to denounce the bombing.
"We condemn this brutal act and have launched a protest movement across all the provinces," Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said. "The government must compensate the affected families, but more important is punishment to the terrorist elements involved."
He suggested establishing a separate court to deal with such attacks on the Hazara community.
Pakistan Muslim League chief Mian Nawaz Sharif called for handing over Quetta to the army to stop the bloodshed of innocent civilians, according to a statement issued by the party.
"It's inhuman and brutal, and there should be no mercy for these terrorists," Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Central Asia Online. "We demand a full-fledged operation to stop such bloodshed."
The KP government officially observed Mourning Day today and said that it would go to any length to support the Hazaras against the terrorist outfits, saying: "No one has the right to kill people for their own brand of Islam."