Wednesday 29 February 2012

Killings destabilise Pakistan's northern areas

Gilgit crowds protest at Kohistan killings
In yet another sectarian attack on Shia pilgrims, 18 passengers were taken off four Gilgit-bound buses travelling along the Karakorum Highway in northern Pakistan by men dressed in Pakistan Army fatigues yesterday and shot to death on the side of the road. A breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility.
The killings are likely to cause great tension in the northern areas of Pakistan, which have been comparatively quiet in recent years. Earlier today there was a violent reaction to the killings in parts of Gilgit and Hunza Nagar, resulting in a curfew being imposed and schools and public buildings being closed. One man was shot dead in Gilgit.
The killers of the Shia pilgrims - who were returning from visiting Shia shrines in Iran - flagged the buses down near the town of Harban Nala, 130 miles north of Islamabad. They then climbed on board to examine identity papers before taking all the Shia men off the buses to shoot them one-by-one. Eight wounded survivors, including some women and children, were taken to the nearest hospitals, five hours drive away.
In a phone call to a news agency following the atrocity, a spokesman for the Jandullah faction of the Taliban claimed responsibility.
"They were Shias and our mujahedeen shot them dead one by one after bringing them down from a bus," said Ahmed Marwat, who described himself as a Jandullah commander. He said the killings were in revenge for the murder of two Sunnis in Gilgit a few days earlier.
Some of those killed outside Harban Nala
 A similar attack on Shia pilgrims occurred in Mustang in Balochistan last September. Then, 26 Shias from Quetta's Hazara minority were shot dead on a bus travelling to Iran. The attack was claimed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Update: The Asian Human Rights Commission, based in Hong Kong, says in a statement that it believes the killings at Harban Nala were carried out by members of the Pakistan Army. "It is inconceivable in this day and age of modern communications, when every person owns a cell phone that the killers were able to operate on their own without any fear that they would be stopped at a military check post. This can only mean that they were military personnel themselves." 
Yesterday Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the perpetrators of the massacre had been tracked down and would soon be shown to the public.

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