Islamabad: Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Tuesday directed authorities to launch a "targeted operation" against militants in Quetta following the killing of nearly 90 people in a terror attack in the Shia-dominated southwestern Pakistani city.
The Prime Minister "has ordered an immediate launch of targeted operation aimed at eliminating those responsible for playing with the lives of innocent civilians and restoring peace and security in Quetta," said a spokesman for the premier`s office.
Ashraf "is closely monitoring the situation in Quetta and is in constant touch with concerned authorities," the spokesman said without giving details.
Ashraf was quoted by Geo News channel as saying that his government would not allow any civilians to be held hostage by terrorists.
The channel reported that law enforcement agencies and security forces had been given 36 hours to conduct the operation against militant groups responsible for targeting Shias in Quetta.
Yesterday, Ashraf had asked intelligence agencies to explain a breach of security by an explosives-laden truck used by the terrorists during the attack in February.
Reports said that up to 800 kg of explosives hidden in a water tank were used in that attack. Analysts have questioned how the vehicle got past dozens of check posts set up across Quetta.
Shia political parties and students` groups have organised protests across the country to condemn the bomb attack at Hazara Town in Quetta that killed 89 people and injured nearly 200 on February 16.
That attack came a little over a month after twin suicide bombings in Quetta killed 92 Shias on January 10.
Life was affected by protests in several large cities, including Islamabad and Karachi. Several key roads in Karachi, Pakistan`s financial capital and largest city, were blocked by protestors and traffic was thin.
Protests were also organised in cities and towns across Punjab and Sindh provinces. Hundreds of Shias joined a sit-in protest in Quetta, saying they would not bury dozens of victims of Saturday`s bombing till the government hands over the security of the city to the army.
They also demanded action against groups like the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack.
After the attack on January 10, Prime Minister Ashraf gave in to demands from Shia groups and sacked the Balochistan government.
He imposed Governor`s Rule in the province but observers say the measure has not led to an improvement in the security situation.
Governor Zulfiqar Magsi, who heads the administration in Balochistan, has accused intelligence and law enforcement agencies of being unable to keep the peace.
He told the media that intelligence operatives were "either too scared to go after the terrorists or too clueless to even know who they are dealing with."
Magsi said he had given security forces a "free hand" to take action against militant groups but this had not had produced results. "It`s their job to pre-empt such attacks. That`s what they are paid for. There is chaos everywhere and the state does not seem to be effective" he said.
Shias, who make up 20 per cent of Pakistan`s population of 180 million, have been repeatedly targeted by the LeJ in Balochistan.
According to Human Rights Watch, over 400 Shias were killed in targeted attacks across Pakistan last year. More than 125 have been killed in Balochistan province this year, most of them Shia Hazaras.