Pak PM sacks Balochistan government after Shia protests



Pak PM sacks Balochistan government after Shia protests Islamabad/Karachi: Yielding to protests over the killing of nearly 100 Shias in Quetta, Pakistan Premier Raja Pervez Ashraf on Monday sacked Balochistan government and imposed Governor's Rule in the troubled southwestern province.

Following a major terror attack on their neighbourhood on Thursday, thousands of Shia Muslims had refused to bury their dead until the Balochistan government was dismissed and the army given control of Quetta, the provincial capital.

Accepting their demand, the Pakistan government today dismissed the PPP-led coalition government for failing to protect the minority community.

President Asif Ali Zardari issued a formal proclamation in this evening which said that a report from the Governor had made it clear that the government of Balochistan "cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution".

Following the order, the protesting Shias who had picketed on the streets of the Balochistan capital with bodies of the victims, ended their four-day sit in protest and started burying those who had died in the bomb attacks.

The Presidential order said Chief Minister Aslam Raisani and other ministers of Balochistan would "forthwith cease to hold their respective offices" and all powers and functions would be exercised by Governor Zulfiqar Magsi.

The order further said Governor's Rule would remain in force for two months.

Prime Minister Ashraf announced the federal government's decision at 1.30 am during a meeting with Shia leaders at Alamdar Road, the Shia-dominated neighbourhood where 98 people were killed and over 120 injured in bomb attacks on Thursday.

"After all consultations, we have decided to invoke Article 234 of the Constitution in Balochistan and this gives the power for Governor's Rule... The Governor will be the chief executive and the provincial government has been dismissed," the Prime Minister said, prompting cheers from Shia leaders.

However, the government did not concede to a demand from the ethnic Hazara Shias for the army to be given control of Quetta to improve security for the vulnerable minority and to carry out operations against sectarian groups like the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

When Shia leaders repeated the demand for the army to be given control of Quetta, Ashraf said Governor Magsi and the civil administration would have the authority to call in the military if needed.

An apex committee headed by the Corps Commander of the army's Southern Command had been formed for ensuring security, he said.

"I expect the Governor to immediately arrest the perpetrators of (Thursday's) attacks so that they can be given exemplary punishment. No one is to be spared," Ashraf said.

The paramilitary Frontier Corps had been given all powers of the police to probe incidents and make arrests, he added.

The sit-in in Quetta had triggered similar protests by civil society and Shia groups across Pakistan, forcing the premier to fly to Balochistan yesterday to find a solution to the stalemate.

The banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has for long been accused of having ties with the security establishment, claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks.

Scores of Hazara Shias have died in attacks by the LeJ in Quetta and surrounding areas.

Hundreds of Shia protesters, including women and children, had braved the cold and rains during their protest in Quetta.

"The people have started burying the victims of the bomb blasts on Alamdar road after four days," said Allama Turab Naqvi, a Shia leader.

He confirmed that all protest sit-ins in Quetta and other parts of the country, including in Karachi, had ended peacefully. Protests by Shia and civil society groups were also being held in towns and cities like Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Multan, Chakwal, Peshawar, Gilgit and Parachinar.

A protest by Hazara Democratic Party outside IG Balochistan's office was also called off.

In Karachi, the Sunni Ittehad Council had also called for a strike today which was observed peacefully with shops, petrol pumps, schools and markets remaining closed. Traffic was disrupted in some parts of the city because of protest rallies but normalcy was restored by evening as the protesters dispersed.

The home department in Sindh province also announced that a ban on pillion riding had been lifted immediately while in many parts of the city mobile and cellular services were also restored.

At all the places, the protesters had said they would remain on the roads till the dead were buried in Quetta.

In Karachi, a large number of Shias and civil society activists besieged the Bilawal House, the private residence of President Asif Ali Zardari.

They carried posters that read "All we demand is peace" and "Why Shia killing is not stopped?"

Angry protesters manhandled two provincial ministers last night.

During their meeting with the Premier in Quetta early this morning, Shia leaders said 1,100 Hazara Shias had been killed in terror attacks so far.

They said this was a large number in proportion to their small population of about five lakhs.

The Shia leaders said that no action was taken by authorities even when pilgrims travelling to Iran were pulled off buses and killed in Chief Minister Raisani's hometown.

Raisani or other ministers never met the victims of terror attacks, they said.

The leaders alleged some provincial ministers were sheltering and backing target killers and militants.

PTI