Each of the thousands of protesters in a remote northwestern Pakistani city had either lost a relative or knows someone among the more than 250 people killed and wounded in the most recent bombings.
As the Shi’ite residents of Parachinar, a picturesque city overshadowed by the snowcapped Spin Ghar (White Mountain Peak) in Pakistan’s Kurram tribal district, hardship and tragedy are nothing new.
Parachinar’s estimated 500,000 Shi’a, mostly members of the Pashtun Turi and Bangash tribes, have survived years of persecution by taking up guns to defend their community against a hard-line Sunni Taliban onslaught following bloody sectarian clashes in 2007.
Officials and doctors said 72 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in three bomb blasts at a busy Parachinar market on June 23.
Most of the victims were shopping for the Eid al-Fitar festival, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, when adult Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.
Locals say at least four people were killed in Parachinar after security forces opened fire on protesters staging a sit-in after the bombings. Government forces, however, say they had fired into the air to disperse the angry crowd that gathered after the attack.
“The sons of our tribe are spending their Eid day in a protest camp here. I hope this will awaken the conscience of our rulers,” tribal leader Muzamil Agha told protesters in Parachinar on June 26. “We also have a plan B and plan C and are determined to act on those unless our demands are met.”
Locals say they want Islamabad to thoroughly investigate and punish the officials responsible for security lapses in Parachinar. They also want the Kurram militia to be deployed there. Most members of this paramilitary force are recruited from the region’s Bangash and Turi clans.
Agha said they are determined to continue the sit-in on a major square near government offices in Parachinar until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and powerful army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa show up for negotiations.
“We want these leaders to come and sit with us in this rain-soaked protest camp,” he said. “We will not relent before we are heard.”
The protest is reminiscent of a 2013 sit-in by the Shi’ite Hazara community in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan Province. The Hazaras refused to bury more than 100 community members killed in a suicide bombing, and their sit-in prompted protests across Pakistan and ultimately compelled Islamabad to accept their demands, which included the dismissal of Balochistan’s civilian government.
“We want the army and Frontier Corps [paramilitary] units deployed here to be immediately investigated,” said another protesting leader, Munir Hussain Agha. “They are responsible for security within the area encircled by a ditch they’ve dug around this city.”
On June 25, General Nazir Butt, a senior military officer, visited Parachinar to assure its residents of government support.
He urged locals to support the security forces in restoring “normalcy” to the city, according to a statement by the Pakistani military’s media wing.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Tariq Orakzai’s reporting from Hangu, Pakistan.