Pakistani Shiites protest against ban on Iran road travel

Hundreds of protesters from Pakistan`s minority Shiite Hazara community on Sunday staged a demonstration in the south-western city of Quetta against a government ban on road travel to Iran where they go for pilgrimage.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 16, 2014, 01:02 AM IST

Quetta: Hundreds of protesters from Pakistan`s minority Shiite Hazara community on Sunday staged a demonstration in the south-western city of Quetta against a government ban on road travel to Iran where they go for pilgrimage.
Men, women and children sat on a main road carrying placards and chanting slogans demanding the ban be lifted.

They also called for better security for pilgrims travelling to the holy sites in Iran and Iraq via Pakistan`s south-western Baluchistan province, which borders Iran.

Pakistan imposed a ban on road trips to Iran after four suicide bombers struck two restaurants in the remote town of Taftan near the Iranian border last week, killing 24 pilgrims who were returning home.

A large number of Pakistani Shiite Muslims travel to Iran via dangerous roads passing through the restive Baluchistan province, a battleground both for hardline Sunni extremists and ethnic Baluch separatists.

"We have staged this sit-in protest to urge the government to reopen the road route to Iran because everybody can`t afford an aeroplane ticket," Daud Agha, a senior leader of the Shiite community told.

"We will not conclude our protest until the government decides positively about our demands," Agha added.

Two devastating bombings in Quetta targeting the city`s Shiites killed nearly 200 people last year and were claimed by banned Sunni extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has links to al-Qaeda.

The Hazara community staged similar protests last year also to demand improved security for their areas of Quetta.

Nearly 1,000 Shiites have been killed in the past two years in Pakistan, a heavy toll on a community that makes up roughly 20 per cent of the country`s population of 180 million, which is predominantly Muslim.