Pakistan orders operation after deadly bombing

AP , Tuesday 19 Feb 2013

Following weekend bombing in Pakistan targeting Shiite Muslims in southwestern city of Quetta, which killed 89 people and sparked protests, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf orders operation

Pakistan's prime minister ordered an operation Tuesday in the southwestern city of Quetta following a weekend bombing targeting minority Shiite Muslims that killed 89 people.

It's unclear whether the order will appease thousands of Shiites protesting in Quetta for a third day. The protesters have refused to bury the bombing victims until the army takes control of the city and launches a targeted operation against sectarian militants attacking them.

A statement issued by Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf's office that announced the operation provided no details about who would carry it out or who would be targeted. Shiites have criticized police and paramilitary troops under control of the Interior Ministry in Quetta for failing to protect the minority sect, which make up about 20 percent of the country's population of 180 million.

Radical Sunni militants have stepped up attacks against Shiites over the past year because they do not view them as real Muslims. Violence has been especially bad in Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital, which has the highest concentration of Shiites in the country. A double bombing at a billiards hall in January in Quetta killed 86 people.

The bomb that ripped through a produce market on Saturday, killing 89 people, was hidden in a water tank that was pulled into the market by a tractor. The militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as the one against the billiards hall in January.

The prime minister's order did not specify whether Lashkar-e-Jhangvi would be the target of the upcoming operation. Shiite leaders in Quetta have also demanded the army go after another banned sectarian group, Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has also targeted Shiites.

The order simply stated that the prime minister has ordered a "targeted operation aimed at eliminating those responsible for playing with lives of innocent civilians and restoring peace and security in Quetta."

Pakistan has launched numerous military operations against militants in recent years, but the focus has been on the Pakistani Taliban, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the state that has killed thousands of people.

Rights organizations have criticized the government for not doing enough to target militant groups attacking Shiites. They explain this apathy by pointing to past connections between the country's military and anti-Shiite militants, and also allege the sectarian groups are seen as less of a threat than the Taliban because they are not targeting the state.

Last year was the bloodiest in history for Pakistan's Shiites, according to Human Rights Watch. Over 400 were killed in targeted attacks across the country, at least 125 of whom were died in Baluchistan.

With two massive bombings targeting Shiites in as many months this year already, 2012 looks like it could be even worse.

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