Islamabad, Pakistan – Dozens of Hazara Shia Muslim protesters in the southwestern city of Quetta have ended a five-day sit-in against a sustained campaign of targeted killings after meeting with the country’s army chief.
The protesters dispersed on Wednesday after community leaders met with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, activist Jalila Haider told Al Jazeera.
Haider, a 30-year-old lawyer, led the protest in the provincial capital, which was sparked by the latest attack against the community – the killing of two men in an electronics shop on Friday.
At least nine members of the Hazara Shia community, an ethnic and religious minority, have been killed in a series of attacks since March.
The community has been targeted for more than a decade, with many shootings and bomb attacks claimed by armed sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. According to the government’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), at least 509 Hazara’s have been killed in Quetta since 2013.
Haider observed a complete hunger strike for four days in protest against the latest killings, demanding the government do more to protect members of the community.
Dozens dead in bomb attack on Quetta’s Shia
Negotiations with Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal broke down on Monday, with protesters demanding that Army Chief Bajwa meet with them.
“I am not undermining my provincial assembly, but the army is the one who is controlling security and law and order,” said Haider. “The police is not empowered.”
Pakistan’s powerful military has ruled the country for roughly half its 70-year history since independence from the British, and still wields power over issues of national and internal security, as well as on some elements of foreign policy.
‘Identity being erased’
Quetta is home to roughly 600,000 Hazara Shias, most of whom live in two enclaves on either side of the city. The enclaves are ringed with high walls topped with barbed wire, and many checkposts are manned by paramilitary personnel.
Members of the community have long complained that security restrictions have cut them off from the rest of the city, not allowing them to effectively manage businesses or send their children to school.
“Nothing has been done to rehabilitate us. Our society and culture has been killed, our identity is being erased, and our children have no future,” said Haider, likening the enclaves to “concentration camps”.
Some members of the community have expressed scepticism regarding the security checkposts, saying they fear those manning them may be involved in the attacks, community leader Dawood Agha told Al Jazeera last week.
“I openly spoke to the army chief. I told him that our people are suspicious of the checkposts, that attacks sometimes occur very close to them,” Haider said.
“He said that for 40 years the jihadi [religious war] agenda that Pakistan has sown, we are now reaping it. Our institutions do also have people of this mindset, and I will get a commission to investigate if anyone from the forces was involved in the attacks.”
Pakistan’s military issued a statement on Bajwa’s meetings with members of the Hazara community, but made no mention of any possible involvement of security forces in the attacks.
“Each and every casualty, including from the Hazara community, is of concern to us and our brave security forces are performing their best and willingly offering monumental sacrifices to bring lasting peace to the country,” the statement said.
At least 37 Pakistani security forces personnel have been killed in attacks in Quetta alone this year, it said.
On Wednesday, Pakistan’s chief justice also took notice of the spike in violence, saying he would hold a hearing in Quetta on May 11.
Activists have warned if attacks continue, they will now hold the government responsible.
“We want these terrorists to face trial, not to be killed by police. If you have to execute them, do it after due process,” said Haider.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan: @AsadHashim