A suicide bomber in southwest Pakistan yesterday was dressed to blend in — black suit, black tie. His target was a crowd outside a hospital in the city of Quetta, lawyers and intellectuals who were gathered for a funeral of a man who'd been assassinated earlier in the day. At least 73 people were killed in the suicide bombing. We're going to talk about this with Aisha Sarwari. She is a journalist and women's rights activist in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. She joins us by Skype. Welcome to the program.
AISHA SARWARI: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Who was the first person killed, the lawyer who was assassinated at the beginning of the day, in Quetta?
SARWARI: This was the head of the bar association in Quetta, Bilal Anwar Kasi, a very well-respected gentleman. And you could tell how well-respected he was because he gathered quite a crowd of lawyers to mourn his killing at the hospital when they brought his body. And what was absolutely tragic was there was an attack there, over 60 lawyers killed who were there to mourn him. Even journalists were killed, and over a hundred people were injured.
INSKEEP: How have people reacted as they learned that it was lawyers who were targeted?
SARWARI: I think everybody is in a daze because Quetta is a city — it's not that populated. Levels of education are good, but they're not that great. And, you know, it takes a lot for somebody to make it as a lawyer in a community like that. So you can imagine the reverberations and the effects this has had on that province. It's terrible. I think it — the loss is unfathomable.
INSKEEP: Who claimed responsibility?
SARWARI: Two groups have. One is obviously the IS, Islamic State. And the other is a faction of the Taliban who have come forward and said that we did it — so strange, but not surprising.
INSKEEP: So when we hear that lawyers are killed, I'm reminded of past incidents in Pakistan where doctors have been targeted in large numbers — seems to be an effort to undermine the brains of society almost or some basic parts of society. What's going on?
SARWARI: You're absolutely right, Steve. I think what we see in this particular attack is that, you know, there's an effort to undermine the rule of law. There's an effort to undermine the state's ability to create stability. By lawyers being targeted, they have attacked the system of justice in Pakistan, of bringing perpetrators forward in the law. All of this we see is a direct attempt to destabilize the country, to ensure some kind of chaos, to put fear in normal citizenry. It's a very sad time for this country.
INSKEEP: We had heard that things were a bit calmer in Pakistan up until this attack. Did things feel calmer before yesterday?
SARWARI: You can't call something calm when it's sporadic. What that does is anything can happen at any time. We saw it just in March the Gulshan-e-Iqbal blast that happened in Lahore, where so many children were killed. So yes, I mean, we do see gaps where this doesn't happen and there's silence. But it's almost like it's eerie. We're even afraid of the calm now because we know it can happen at any time.
INSKEEP: How is this affecting daily life?
SARWARI: It's crippling daily life. I — you know, I would say in terms of economic growth, in terms of creativity, entrepreneurship — everybody is restrained. When something like this happens, it just saps the energy, the life out of you, the ability to think forward, to plan ahead. And I would say something like this is very significant because in Baluchistan — that's where majority of the work for the CPEC is happening, the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
INSKEEP: I wish you'd clarify. Baluchistan is the province where this city is, where this attack was. And you're saying that's where China wants to invest a lot of money in Pakistan.
SARWARI: Amongst other places, yes. There was some hope that that would bring in some economic rejuvenation. The fact that Quetta is attacked in such a ghastly way puts a doubt on that, on the country's ability to stop these attacks from happening and securing the protection of its citizens.
INSKEEP: Aisha Sarwari is a journalist and women's rights activist. She's in Islamabad and joined us by Skype. Thanks very much.
SARWARI: Thank you.