The country is at war with itselfby Samira Shackle / February 20, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
The aftermath of an explosion in Quetta, Pakistan, on 10th January © Demotix/PPIimages
The evening of 10th January began like any other. A group of men gathered in a large snooker hall in Alamdar Road, a Shia area in the city of Quetta, western Pakistan. And then, in an instant, chaos descended. Two huge bomb blasts, detonated within 10 minutes of each other, left 85 people dead and a further 120 injured. “It was like the end of the world,” says Mohammed, who was left permanently disabled by the attack. “But I am lucky. I did not die. God willing, it was not my time.”
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group with ties to the Taliban and a hatred for Shias, the Muslim minority that makes up 20 per cent of Pakistan’s population. An apparently unrelated attack the same day in the northern province of Swat killed at least 20 Sunnis attending a religious gathering. The scale of the day’s bloodshed shocked the nation. Quetta’s grieving Shia community held a vigil on the streets, surrounded by coffins. They refused to bury their dead until something was done; a powerful way of shaming the government into giving them basic protection. After several days, with protests erupting all over the country, the surrounding province of Balochistan was placed under federal control to restore order.
As Pakistan gears up for elections, expected to take place in May or June, terrorism is high on the agenda. This is a pivotal moment for Pakistan’s democracy: it is the first time in its 66-year history that a civilian government has lasted a full term and transferred power to another through elections. Lasting a full term is a significant achievement in itself, since Pakistan has spent a total of 32 years under military rule. The relationships between state institutions are dysfunctional and civilian governments are inherently weak given the threat of overthrow by the army, the “state within a state.” The vulnerability of democratic institutions goes some way towards explaining why this parliament has done little to tackle extremist threat.