The bloodshed is likely to increase as the nation heads into parliamentary elections, expected to be held in two months, that would bring the first democratic transition in Pakistan’s 65-year history. Experts say al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban militants have allied with anti-Shiite extremists and are finding new opportunities to step up attacks.
“It is quite precarious,” said Moeed Yusuf, a Pakistan expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. “The state writ has unraveled, and the military doesn’t seem able to put the lid on things as they could in the past.”
The Pakistani army says it is tied down fighting the Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and has resisted Shiites’ calls for interventions in Quetta, in southwestern Baluchistan province, and Karachi, the nation’s financial hub and most populous city.
The latest bombing, however, stirred Pakistan’s two most powerful men — Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani — to step bluntly into the void left by local and national civilian leadership.
As soon as Chaudhry convened hearings in Karachi, the top provincial police official was sacked. Kayani, citing the alarm of his nationwide commanders, publicly chided President Asif Ali Zardari over the deteriorating security situation in Karachi and Quetta.
The carnage in Karachi’s Abbas Town, as the Shiite section is known, brought the usual denunciations from political leaders but no concrete action, in a repeat of the official indifference shown to the Quetta victims until they refused to bury their dead and mounted massive demonstrations across the country.
Five days after the Karachi blast, Zardari, who had been in the city all week, issued a statement condemning the “barbaric incident,” offering financial support for victims’ families and vowing to hunt down the attackers.
It was of little comfort to families in the Shiite neighborhood here, still littered several days after the blast with charred motorbikes and pages from children’s lesson books. Their disgust at local and national leaders could not be more palpable.