The explosion that killed 53 people at a Shia rally in Quetta city is just the beginning of what will come to be a wave of militant attacks aimed at taking advantage of the chaos that is descending over Pakistan.
The Pakistan Taliban has already claimed responsibility for the attack. Their target- a Shia rally showing solidarity for Palestinians– suggests that the Pakistan Taliban is trying to press their advantage and maximize instability within Pakistan by fermenting sectarian tensions. This attack comes hot on the heels of another sectarian bombing in Lahore earlier this week that killed 31 Shia Muslims and injured 300 others.
The stakes are particularly high in Pakistan at present due to a confluence of pressures bearing down on the civilian government. They include: the logistical nightmare of rebuilding after the floods, a string of past development failures, popular disenchantment with the civilian authorities in Islamabad, Taliban sympathizers within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and in the past few months an upsurge in sectarian attacks and at times open violence in the streets.
Two things can be taken as certain going forward. First, we haven’t seen the last of high profile attacks such as todays. They will be trending up as the full extent of damage caused by flooding is made apparent. Second, the Pakistani government is experiencing a crisis of legitimacy that will only be getting worse. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that we may see a repeat of the Musharraf coup of 1999, for the Pakistani Army is one of the only institutions that has gotten through these floods with its image intact.
Dawn carried an editorial stressing the need for both sides of the sectarian divide to come together and end the violence:
“The Shia community must also accept the fact that local administrations, inept or otherwise, cannot go it alone in preventing attacks on its members. Community volunteers are already doing a commendable job manning entrance points to various imambargahs and conducting security checks on those who wish to enter. Worshippers do not mind this frisking because it is carried out by their own. Perhaps it is time that such checks, though admittedly a far more testing task, were replicated at checkpoints along procession routes because the police are naturally hesitant to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities. In short, this is a joint struggle and everyone must be on board.”