Home inContext Bombings Rile Pakistani Shiites

Bombings Rile Pakistani Shiites

Michael Johnson

A car bomb exploded Sunday outside a mosque in a Shiite neighborhood of Karachi, Pakistan killing 37 people. At least 140 people were injured during the incident which occurred as residents poured into the streets after evening prayers. Police estimated nearly 220 pounds of explosives created a fire which engulfed several nearby buildings and left a crater more than four feet deep.

Thousands gathered on Monday to bury those killed and to protest the government’s failure to protect Shiites from violence. Angry protesters set fire to buses and buildings according to security officials. Gunman killed two people on their way home from the funeral.

Shiite Muslims sit by the bodies of the victims of twin bombings for the third day, during a protest in Quetta, Jan. 14. (Photo: Waheed Khan / EPA)

While no one claimed responsibility for the attacks, AFP states that the Sunni jihadist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is suspected to be involved. In the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistani intelligence helped develop the group to counter perceived threats from Shiite-dominated Iran, before banning them in 2001.

Sunni groups have carried out major attacks on Shiites before: Human Rights Watch has documented that 400 people died in such killings last year. Groups like LeJ seem to operate with impunity in Quetta and have been responsible for two separate bombings targeting Shiites. Nearly 200 people have been killed in similar circumstances since the beginning of 2013. Last month, Pakistani authorities arrested Malik Ishaq, the leader of LeJ, after the group claimed responsibility for a bombing in Baluchistan and inciting sectarian violence. Suspected of attacks against Shiites, Ishag had been imprisoned for 14 years but was released in 2011.

Shiite Muslims comprise approximately 20% of Pakistan’s 180 million people, but many feel their government has failed them. During a multi-party political conference in Islamabad last week, a Sunni extremist leader’s speech prompted Shiites to walk out. In February, the families of victims from an attack in Quetta had refused to bury their dead in protest of government inaction. While the protests against have been largely peaceful, additional Sunni attacks coupled with rising Shiite frustration could inflame tensions.

Renewed sectarian violence, corruption and Islamabad’s notoriously dysfunctional politics present Pakistan’s government with mounting challenges. The challenge for civilian politicians is to keep Pakistan from the ever present threat of military intervention in politics as the country continues to be destabilized by violence and political conflict.