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A Prayer Before Dying

3 minute read
Tim McGirk/Islamabad

Pakistan is all too familiar with sectarian violence, but the massacre in Quetta’s Ishnam Asheri mosque, the worst act of its kind since the mid-’90s, was horrifying even by South Asia’s gruesome standards. Thousands of worshipers were performing their Friday prayers when two gunmen burst in and fired into the crowd for 10 minutes, pausing only to reload. Outside the mosque, a third man, wired with explosives, walked into a cluster of worshipers and blew himself up. By the time police dispatched the gunmen, 47 people were dead and 65 wounded. Police defused two more bombs that could have killed hundreds more. Suspicion quickly fell on an offshoot of the banned Sunni radical group, Sipah-e-Sabah, whose preachers denounce Shi’ites as infidels and whose members have been accused of murdering Shi’ite doctors and lawyers. Police also believe that this group helped al-Qaeda carry out two suicide bombings last year in Karachion May 8 against a bus carrying French naval technicians, and on June 8 against the U.S. consulate.

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Sectarianism leaves ugly psychological scars, promulgating waves of violence. After the Quetta attack, enraged Shi’ites set fire to vehicles, banks and hospitals. City officials said Shi’ites also beat a Sunni student to death. President Pervez Musharraf was in Paris when he heard the news, winding up a trip to America and Europe during which he’d been showered with praise for his role in the war against terror. Constituents at home, especially in the restive provinces bordering Afghanistan, are less likely to give him such a warm welcome. Each terror attack on home soil can also be interpreted as an attack by extremists on Musharraf’s government and his pro-Western stance. “We have to act very strong against them,” Musharraf said of the Quetta killers. “It is unfortunate that this small minority is able to derail or undermine national feelings.” If Musharraf cannot tame them, Pakistan might enter a period when even praying is dangerous.

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