QUETTA -- Pakistani troops are hunting down the plotters of the August 8 suicide bombing that decimated Quetta's legal community.
A bomber blew himself up at Quetta Civil Hospital, killing more than 70 people -- mostly lawyers, as well as two journalists -- after they gathered around the body of Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association, who was gunned down earlier in the day.
Kasi's assassination apparently was meant to lure the local legal community to the hospital.
"The combing operation was started August 9 on the direction of Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif," Zeshan Asad, a senior intelligence official in Quetta, told Pakistan Forward. "Police, Frontier Corps, counter-terrorism wing and intelligence personnel are taking part in this operation."
"The detained suspects are affiliated with various banned militant groups, and heavy weapons, explosives and ammunition also were seized from the suspects' hideouts," he said.
"Forces are using army choppers ... and security forces are taking every possible effort to encounter those extremist groups involved in anti-peace activities in the province," he said.
"The terrorist groups, after their defeat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are trying to shift their war to Balochistan," he said. "It is the state's resolve to bring all militants to justice."
A high-level team of security officials is investigating the suicide bombing, Ghulam Rasool, a senior counter-terrorism official and member of the investigation team, said.
"The investigation team has started its work, and it also has obtained the body parts of the suicide bomber for DNA testing," he told Pakistan Forward.
The bomber was 20 to 22 and his suicide vest was packed with high explosives and ball bearings, he said.
"We are trying our best to investigate the in-depth [origins] of this attack," he said. "Our team has been directed to file the initial report within one week to the Interior Ministry."
Militants attempt show of force
"The militant groups involved in the recent wave of terrorist activities in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan are trying to show their existence in the region," Maj. (ret.) Mohammad Omar of Quetta, a senior security analyst, told Pakistan Forward.
"There is a clear nexus among some militant groups in Balochistan, and these groups are jointly operating in some restive areas of the province," he said.
"Militant groups ... want to destabilise the province in an attempt to build pressure on the Pakistani government,” he said.
"The National Action Plan [NAP] is one of the best strategies to handle those diehard militant groups carrying out suicide attacks," he said, referring to a counter-terrorism policy adopted after the December 2014 massacre of more than 140 children and teachers at Army Public School in Peshawar. "In Balochistan, however, there needs to be more commitment to implementing the NAP with full-fledged intensity."
Both the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jamatul Ahrar and a Pakistani faction of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the bombing.
"The death toll ... has risen to 73 and more than 120 others are still under treatment," provincial Minister of Health Rehmat Saleh Baloch told Pakistan Forward.
Fifty-three people were killed on the spot and 20 later died from their injuries, Baloch said.
The army airlifted 40 seriously injured patients to Karachi, he said.
"I strongly condemn the barbaric attack on our lawyers in the hospital," provincial Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri said in Quetta August 9. "The attempt to sabotage the war against terrorists will not be tolerated."
"The blood of innocent victims will not be shed in vain," he said. "We will continue our fight until the end of the last terrorists."
"No one should be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that our security forces restored through countless sacrifices," he added.
Terrorism's perverted ideology
"The cowardly terrorists have started targeting soft targets," said Lt. Gen. Aamer Riaz, commander of the army's Southern Command. "We are in a state of war with an ideology that wants to change our way of life.”
"The terrorists want to attack our state and society through their perverted ideology," he said. "We will not compromise our security, and the process of eliminating terrorism through Operation Zarb-e-Azb and [NAP] is irreversible."
"The entire nation is united with unflinching resolve against terrorism, and the Pakistani army and the entire nation stand by the family members of the [August 8] martyrs," he added. "We will leave no stone unturned in eliminating terrorism."