QUETTA - The Government of Balochistan has suspended buses carrying pilgrims from travelling through the province to neighbouring Iran due to security concerns after a suicide attack killed 28 pilgrims in Mastung this week.
A 700 km highway connecting Quetta and Iran, home to many Shia pilgrimage sites, has seen dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
"We have temporarily suspended the movement of buses on the highway until the security situation improves," a senior official of the Balochistan government told Reuters on Friday.
The provincial government then arranged C-130 flights to ferry 301 Shia pilgrims from Dalbandin town in Chagai district to Quetta International Airport for fear of more attacks on the pilgrims on Taftan-Quetta Highway. The pilgrims had entered Pakistan via Iran border in Taftan Town on Wednesday.
“The pilgrims were stopped in Taftan and barred from travelling by passenger buses. They were later shifted to Dalbandin under tight security,” another official said.
FC and Levies personnel escorted the pilgrims from Taftan to Dalbandin.
Taftan does not have an airport and that is why the passengers were shifted to Dalbandin, about 290 kms from Taftan. Assistant Commissioner Razzaq Sasoli said 90 pilgrims took the flight from Dalbandin Airport for Quetta. Other pilgrims would be flown to Quetta by the same plane upon its return. Dalbandin is about 350 kms from Quetta.
It seems to be a temporary arrangement as all the passengers were provided with free flight at the expenses of the Balochistan government. “The government is devising a strategy about the transportation. For the time being, the government has decided to provide them with C-130 flights,” a security official said.
After the Mastung bombing, Chief Minister Dr Malik Baloch announced to arrange a ferry service on subsidised price for the pilgrims.
Meanwhile the bodies of 28 victims who were killed the Mastung bus blast were laid to rest on Friday.
Amid strict security arrangements, 25 of the victims were buried in Bahisht-e-Zainab graveyard located at Alamdar Road and three in Bahisht-e-Zahra graveyard in Hazara Town.
Moving scenes were witnessed when the bodies were brought to the graveyards. The burial came hours after the Hazara community agreed to call off its protest on assurances from Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan that strict action would be taken against those behind the attack.
In another development, the security forces rounded up 25 suspects in an operation in Mastung’s Kanak and Dringer areas. The operation was carried out in the early morning by the security forces, including personnel from Frontier Corps, police, Anti-Terrorism Force (ATF), Levies and Balochistan Constabulary. “Helicopters and armoured vehicles were used in the operation,” sources said, adding over 25 suspects were arrested by the security personnel. They said arms and ammunitions were also recovered from their possession. Entry and exit points of Kanak and Dringer areas were sealed shortly before the search operation was started.
“The detained suspects were shifted to Quetta where they would be investigated and the innocents would be set free after investigation,” the sources said.
INP adds: The government has decided to launch action against militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in Balochistan. The decision was taken at a meeting attended by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, the Balochistan chief minister, the Quetta corps commander, the IGP and IGFC (Frontier Corps).
Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch was made in-charge of the operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
It is important to mention that the decision to launch an operation against the militants was taken following an attack on Shias in Mastung on Tuesday.
Hazara community ended its sit-in protest after assurances from federal ministers, Chaudhry Nisar and Pervaiz Rashid. Nisar and Pervaiz Rashid reached Quetta on Thursday and, after being briefed by CM Baloch on the demands of the bereaved families, they consoled the Hazara community and assured them of doing everything possible to chase the perpetrators and bring them to the court of justice.
The federal ministers also said the Hazaras were a peaceful and patriotic community, adding the whole nation was united to express solidarity with them. Nisar said the government had no objection over any demand of the Hazara community. “The government will avenge the injustices done to the community,” he asserted. Following the government’s assurance, the leaders of the Hazara community ended the protest.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 25-Jan-2014