How Pakistan's Largest Religious Minority Has Come Under Siege
By Omar Waraich / Islamabad Friday, Jan. 28, 2011
For Pakistan's Shi'ites, the horrific scenes were depressingly familiar. On Tuesday, as thousands of Shi'ite worshippers solemnly shuffled through the medieval and narrow streets of Lahore's Old City, past its historic displays of Mughal grandeur, a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up nearby at a police checkpoint, killing 13 people and wounding scores. An hour later, in Karachi, a bomb exploded near a second procession, slaying two policemen. "It's very tragic," Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, tells TIME. "One can only despise the elements who are killing innocent people, people who are performing their religious duties." The marchers were marking the final day of an annual Shi'ite mourning period that recalls the seventh century martyrdom of their most revered saint, Imam Hussain.
Most traditional days of mourning are now followed by fresh ones. Last September, as Shi'ites marched through Lahore's same streets to mark the Day of Ali, the Prophet's cousin, a triple suicide bombing ripped through the city, killing 31 worshippers and wounding more than 200. And just two days later, terror struck again, with over 43 Shi'ites slain amid an annual march in support of Palestinians in the southwest city of Quetta. A year ago, 32 people were brutally killed in Karachi on Ashura, the holiest day for Shi'ites — who are a minority in predominantly Sunni Pakistan. "Sadly, you can predict a terror attack on any of these days and you won't be wrong," says Talat Masood, a retired general turned security analyst.
And it is Punjab, the largest and wealthiest province, that may require the greatest attention in terms of Pakistan's future stability. "While there's a genuine insurgency issue in the tribal areas," says senior opposition politician Mushahid Hussain, "there's a genuine terrorism issue in Punjab. In the long run, it's even more dangerous than the tribal areas. We are talking about the very heart of the country."
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