YET another series of attacks against the Shia Hazara community in Balochistan over the weekend has raised fresh questions about the state’s inability or, as some quarters darkly suggest, unwillingness to take on the sectarian killers in the province headlined by the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Balochistan. To be sure, with only a small number of hardcore militants believed to be involved, stopping them will not be easy. But there are disturbing signs that the killings are yet to shake the political and security apparatus in Balochistan out of its stupor. Even more problematically, members of the provincial government are being accused by the Hazara community of either providing sanctuary to the killers or of turning a blind eye to their presence in certain areas.
What is clear is that Balochistan has a growing problem of radicalisation. A network of madressahs and mosques has mushroomed in Baloch areas like the districts of Mastung, Khuzdar, Noshki and Kalat. With little to no oversight of their operations, the network has injected into parts of the Baloch population a growing intolerance along sectarian, i.e. Sunni-Shia, lines. Add to that mixture the recruiting of LJ type militant outfits and a relatively small problem can snowball. In Balochistan, the surge in targeting the Hazara community this year and particularly in the last few weeks is not well understood. It could be that a ‘deadline’ for the Hazaras to leave Quetta, for example, set by the militants has expired. Or with the space for sectarian attacks in other parts of the country somewhat reduced, the Hazaras in lawless Balochistan are an easier target.
Whatever the reasons for the surge in killings and attacks, the matter seems to be beyond the control of regular law-enforcement agencies. Police in Quetta are themselves targets of sectarian killers and do not have the resources to fight back or defend themselves. And if the police’s political bosses in the provincial government are disinclined to take on the sectarian militants, there’s little the police can do anyway. Which leaves the intelligence apparatus. The LJ in Balochistan is precisely the kind of entity that intelligence agencies are meant to track and help dismantle. The damaging war against Baloch separatists being led by the intelligence agencies is real enough but it’s not reason enough to preclude other actions by those agencies. But what if the agencies see strategic reasons to leave some groups untouched? The Hazaras of Balochistan are truly caught between a rock and a hard place.
With eight more Hazara community members killed in Quetta on Saturday, the litany of the sorrows of the community seems unrelenting. In one incident, assailants ambushed a taxi on Brewery Road, killing the six occupants, in an eerie repeat of an earlier such ambush on a vehicle carrying Hazara community members. Minutes after the first incident, the assassins killed another two members of the community in a rickshaw in the same area. Virtual riots broke out in the city in reaction, with arson and violence on display against the police and authorities. The sky was punctuated by aerial firing, which wounded a student. The authorities responded by deploying the police as usual and calling in 10 more Frontier Corps (FC) platoons to beef up the security presence. That may have helped defuse the immediate violent reaction, but whether this post-facto response is the answer to what is by now clearly a pattern of attacks on the Hazara community is shrouded in doubt. Quetta in particular has become the theatre of this sectarian genocide. It must be stopped before the peaceful Hazara community loses patience and decides to protect and defend itself against the sectarian terrorists by force of arms, given that the Balochistan government and the FC have signally failed to do their duty. The ‘absent’ Chief Minister Aslam Raisani made the ritual announcement of doing all within the government’s power to bring the sectarian mayhem to an end. Balochistan Home Secretary Nasibullah Bazai offered a mealy-mouthed response, saying the government could not provide complete security to citizens. Let alone “complete” security, what security has the provincial government provided to any citizen? He goes on to assert that a comprehensive security plan has been devised that would be implemented after approval by the higher authorities. Nobody takes these ‘declarations’ seriously any more. Amidst the announcement of days of mourning, the Shia community in Quetta has called for the inept Balochistan government’s resignation. Governor Balochistan Zulfikar Magsi, a frequent critic of the provincial government’s (lack of) performance, warned the other day that if the provincial authorities could not handle the situation, the army may have to be called out. What would remain of the tattered credibility of the provincial government if this were to come to pass?
The Shia community is under attack in the country from Khurram Agency to Gilgit-Baltistan to Balochistan. The sectarian terrorists aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda are seeking to sow the seeds of sectarian strife to such an extent throughout the country, from north to south, that a sectarian civil war breaks out to destabilise the country as a whole. While the Shia tribes in Khurram Agency are under the pressure of the Taliban and their mentors the intelligence agencies to allow safe passage to the Taliban for attacks in Afghanistan on pain of death, the Shias of Gilgit-Baltistan are being massacred without let or hindrance. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s proposal of a judicial commission on the sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan is a non sequitur. It does not take a judicial commission to know the facts on the ground when Shias are picked off en masse every other day. Protests of solidarity with the Hazara community in Balochistan and Shias throughout the country were held on Saturday in Islamabad and even Washington. The purpose of the sectarian terrorists should leave no one in any doubt. Pakistan is to be reduced to rubble through a sectarian civil war that could destroy democracy and the country itself. They must not be allowed to succeed in their nefarious designs by pussyfooting authorities or inept law enforcement. It is in the interests of the system and all governments, federal and provincial, to rise to the challenge and conduct an effective campaign of suppression against these mad fanatics.
Balochistan’s slide into veritable anarchy and chaos is hardly difficult to ignore. There has been much comment on it everywhere. But it is rather frightening when a top official of the land himself concedes that the province is in a state of anarchy, and asks why the government is doing nothing about this. The Governor of Balochistan, Zulfikar Ali Magsi, appeared genuinely upset by the situation as he spoke to a delegation of the Hazara Democratic Party, which had called on him to protest the repeated incidents of targeted killing in the province. Six more members of the besieged community, as well as a police constable were killed on April 13, taking the toll to over two dozen dead in the past few weeks. That these killings continue to happen again and again means that either the law-enforcement agencies are completely inept, or complicit. The governor’s warning that civil war could lie ahead is a frightening one. Certainly the warning appears to be one that carries weight.
The fact that the governor has spoken openly, without restraint or the mincing of words, may perhaps have a silver lining. He has asked why the deaths continue in the presence of the Frontier Corps and police, deployed across Quetta and also other cities. This is certainly a question many of us would like to ask, and also get good answers to. The state of affairs in Balochistan is worsening as we watch. This is not something that can be tolerated — with distrust and hatred worsening by the day. The governor has warned that if things do not improve the army will need to be called out. This is something we need to avoid given the Baloch distrust for the military, as well as the paramilitary FC. While it is clear the killing spree needs to end, the question arises also of the need to think out a longer term solution for the province. They need to be dealt with in an organised manner, with all parties involved, so that a way can be found to restore the calm Balochistan so badly needs and restore peace to a province in chaos. A first much-needed step will be a halt to the abductions of suspected troublemakers.