Buses of Mass Destruction

By Malik Siraj Akbar

There is one pessimistic lesson we should learn from Sunday’s car bomb blast on Shia pilgrims in Mastung: no travel route is safe for the Shias in Balochistan and sectarian militants have become so powerful that they can hunt down unarmed citizens wherever they want and then easily vanish in thin air without the fear of ever being caught. The sectarian conflict has become extremely barbaric and the Shia Muslims are left in the mercy of Sunni militants.  On Sunday, at least 19 people were brutally killed and nearly 25 were badly injured when a car carrying a bomb struck in one of the three buses that was carrying Shia pilgrims in Mastung district.

Attacks after attacks on buses that transport Shia pilgrims to holy sights in Iran have made traveling on buses a nightmare.  Sunni militants routinely stop buses carrying Shias, ask for the identity cards of the passengers and then shoot them indiscriminately simply, and of course sadly, because the belong to the Shia sect of Islam. The government’s attempt to safeguard these buses with the help of security guards has also fizzed out as the attackers in Mastung also managed to injure two of the security guards who were escorting the three buses on Sunday. Bus drivers naively believe they can skip attacks if they several buses travel together. This is a good strategy but did not prove to be very helpful on Sunday. When several buses carry too many passengers at the same time, they also face the risk of mass casualties in case of an attack on even one bus. In Mastung, we experienced the same outcome where one bus was totally burnt because of the blast and some of the passengers were burnt to such an extent that their faces could not be identified. At the end of the day, the threats keeps looming and it does not matter whether the buses travel alone or in small convoys.

Is there anything else that the government should do besides issuing mere statements of condemnation after every incident?

The Shia community, which mainly comprises of the ethnic Hazaras in Balochistan, has faced one tragedy after the other. Hundreds of innocent Shias have lost their lives in the hands of religious extremists but the issue has still failed to top the government’s priority chart. The national media is obsessed with lesser important issues, such as cricket matches, at a time when the media should encourage an earnest national debate why the government is still not taking up the issue on priority basis. Sections of the secret services have been blamed for supporting these religious fanatics while others blame foreign (read Saudi Arabian) funding the main cause of escalating religiosity in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan. The million dollar question, however, remains unanswered: What benefits does the Establishment achieve by promoting religious extremists and keeping utterly silent over the killing of civilians? If there is a larger ‘national interest’ attached to the Establishment’s alleged support to these groups, the secret should be made public and the whole country should know what national interest is being preserved at the cost of the Shias. After all, we believe no ‘national interest’ or ‘national asset’ should hold more value than the lives of our fellow citizens.

The government has not made the elimination of the extremist groups a priority because it has still not come under sufficient pressure from any quarter. The mainstream Pakistani political parties, such as the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, have not come out in the streets to protest the killing of Shias. None of the political parties has made the fight against sectarianism  a fundamental element of its election manifesto. We may not often want to offend our Shia countrymen but the silence of these political parties clearly, though indirectly, tells them that there is tacit approval of the Shia killings in our society at large. How can a society, otherwise, remain so indifferent and senseless after regularly witnessing mass murder of fellow citizens in broad daylight? Neither secular political parties nor the national media have been able to instill the feeling of anger and rebellion among the ordinary citizen to stand up and own the battle against what many now call the “Shia-genocide”.

Sunday’s carnage has brought the year 2012 to an end with a depressing note: 2013 is not going to get any better until we initiate and own a battle against the Shia killings and establish a tolerant, secular and pluralistic society.

This editorial was originally published in The Baloch Hal on December on December 31, 2012


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