The New York Review of Books: This spring was supposed to open a new chapter in Pakistan’s tenuous embrace of inclusive democracy. At midnight on March 17, following constitutional rules, the Pakistan government of Asi Ali Zardari stepped down and the national assembly was dissolved, in preparation for national elections in May, which will mark the first time the country passes from one elected leadership to another. And yet a terrifying escalation of extremist attacks against religious minorities and aid workers since the start of the year has shown the government and the security forces’ utter failure to deal with a festering culture of intolerance.
Sectarian killings in three very disparate parts of the country—Quetta, in the western province of Balochistan, Karachi, in the south, and Lahore, in the Punjab heartland—are just the latest incidents of large-scale violence. In Quetta in January and February, the Sunni extremist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killed nearly two hundred Shias of the Hazara ethnic group in two separate bomb attacks. For days after the second attack, outraged members of the Hazara community refused to bury their dead, blocking roads with coffins, while others said they were ready to flee the country. On March 3, in the heart of Karachi, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants killed another fifty Shias in a truck bombing that did extensive damage to a Shia neighborhood.