Pakistani Shias, along with other religious and ethnic minorities, as well as secular forces in Pakistan are paying a heavy price of saving the country from the extremist, violent ideology of (the so-called) Islamists, known as Taliban and Al Qaeda, produced and protected by ISI.
A suicide bomber infiltrated a funeral procession for a slain a Shiite Muslim cleric Friday morning in the northwest Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan, killing at least 32 people and wounding more than 150, police and witnesses said.
Sectarian violence by militant Deobandi and Wahhabi organisations (Taliban/Al Qaeda/ Sipah-e-Sahaba) against Shia Muslims has plagued the town of Dera Ismail Khan on the western bank of the Indus river and close to the South Waziristan tribal region, where support runs deep for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Taliban have in the past claimed responsibilty for such attacks on Shia, e.g. the attack on a D.I.Khan hospital in December 2008 and attack on a Shia gathering in D. G. Khan in February 2009.
Family members help a person injured by a bomb attack at a local hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, 20 Feb 2009
It was the latest in a string of deadly terrorist attacks against Shiite mosques and communities in northwest Pakistan, where sectarian antagonism between minority Shiites and majority Sunnis has been inflamed by the growing aggression and ambition of the Sunni extremist Taliban movement.
Police said they had found the body parts of the suspected bomber. "It's a suicide blast. We have found the severed legs of the suspected bomber," said deputy superintendent Sanaullah, who had been part of the police escort for the procession.
Witnesses told police they had seen a motorcyclist drop off the bomber who then ran among the mourners before detonating the explosives strapped to his body.
Following the attack, locals vented their anger by torching vehicles and ransacking shops. Gunfire also broke out briefly. Authorities imposed a curfew and police and troops patrolled the town, which is 270 km southwest of the capital, Islamabad.
The majority of Pakistan's Muslims are Sunni, but about 15 per cent of the 170 million population are Shia.
Sectarian violence has flared up since last year as security analysts say al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, who are Sunni, have stirred up sectarian strife in order to expand their influence across the northwest.
The bombing, which followed the assassination Thursday of a local Shiite cleric, came as national attention was focused on a controversial peace proposal by a regional government that would install strict Islamic law in another area of the volatile northwest, Malakand District, in exchange for local Taliban forces laying down their arms.
Negotiations over the proposal continued for a second day Friday between delegations of Taliban fighters and local Islamic leaders in the Swat Valley, a tourist resort area in Malakand that has been overrun by the violent militants. In recent months, thousands of terrified Swat residents have fled from the brutal campaign of executions, school burnings and forced bans on women's activities.
The peace plan has aroused strong criticism inside Pakistan and in the West, where many experts and officials have warned that it would allow the Taliban to consolidate power in the northwest border region and spread its extreme religious ideology even further into developed areas of Pakistan.
"The government is vacillating, and it has no coherent strategy to deal with the militants. If it doesn't stop them, this could destabilize the whole country," said Mehmood Shah, a retired army brigadier and security official in the northwest. "The army has the capacity to fight them, but not the will. It is still not entirely convinced that the militants are the enemy, even though they are slaughtering people."
Although Taliban representatives were still in talks Friday with religious and political leaders about a possible deal, the violence in Dera Ismail Kahn appeared to be a deliberate attempt by Sunni militants to stoke religious rage and violence rather than to reinforce efforts at peaceful reconciliation.
The town where the bomber struck is a Shiite stronghold close to South Waziristan, a tribal area bordering Afghanistan which is a bastion of the Sunni extremist militant movement. Friday's attack was a more deadly version of an incident in Dera Ismail Kahn in November, when a funeral for another slain Shiite cleric was also hit by a suicide bomber, killing at least 10 people.
It came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bomb attack against Shiite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan (on 5 February), in what was one of Pakistan's deadliest sectarian attacks.
Before that, a car bomb killed 29 people and wounded scores near a Shiite mosque in Peshawar in December 2008.
"The government must stop the genocide of Shiites in Dera Ismail Khan. They are killing us, attacking our houses and do not spare even our funerals," said Hussain from hospital.
Authorities ordered troops into Dera Ismail Khan and imposed a curfew after volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners degenerated into angry riots.
Mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up roadblocks with burning tyres in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told AFP by telephone from the scene.
"A curfew has been imposed in the city," district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP.
"The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order."
Zaman, the Shiite cleric who was being buried, was shot dead on Thursday in a busy market by unidentified gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike, police said.
He had been a prominent member of the town's Shiite community and organised community gatherings, police said.
|Protest staged against DI Khan suicide attack in Islamabad|
| Updated at: 1847 PST, Friday, February 20, 2009|
DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Imamia Students Organization (ISO) workers on Friday staged protest in Islamabad in connection with suicide attack on funeral gathering in Dera Ismail Khan.
Many ISO workers participated in agitation, which started from Central Imam Bargah in G-6 area and went up to Melody Press Club.
Protesters chanted slogans condemning the D.I Khan suicide attack and blocked road bound to Aabpara area from Melody chowk for a little while.
Demonstrators also raised slogans against NWFP provincial government declaring that the government had failed to establish peace in province.
DERA ISMAIL KHAN: At least 32 persons were killed and 85 others injured in a powerful suicide blast during funeral procession of Shia elder near Shobara hotel here on Friday, DCO Syed Mohsin Shah said.
“The funeral procession accompanying the body of Shia elder, Sher Zaman killed yesterday by unknown gunmen, was moving towards the graveyard when it reached near Sobara hotel a powerful explosion took place,” he told reporters.
The DCO said that curfew has been imposed in the city and army has been called in. He also vowed to bring perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.
Mohsin asked the people to remain in-door as shoot on sight orders have been issued. The DCO said security personnel are patrolling the roads and streets to avoid loss of life and property and maintain order.
The injured were rushed to District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) in Dera Ismail Khan, Bhakkar and CMH. Emergency has been declared in DI Khan hospital while doctors on leave have been called back. The condition of several victims was stated to be critical. The enraged mourners and family members of the victims protested the incident and resorted to aerial firing.
The protestors burnt tyres and pelted stones on buildings and vehicles. Police rushed to the scene and started search operation. The situation in the city remained tense as intermittent incidents of firing are still reported from interior city.
President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti strongly condemned the suicide attack.
Report on BBC Urdu dot com
For a full account of sectarian terrorism in D. I. Khan read: