By Abbas Nasir
June 13th, 2015
BALOCHISTAN has become a quagmire. All parties to the bloody fight for the province seem locked into intractable positions. It is not surprising then that many playing key roles find convenient scapegoats to explain away a crisis of their own making.
“The killing of eight policemen this week is part of a plan hatched by the enemies against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” the Balochistan inspector-general of police Amlish Khan was reported to have said by Friday’s newspapers after the second lethal attack against the police in Quetta’s Pashtoonabad area in one week.
In the absence of conclusive evidence one way or the other, one can’t say whether the IG was right or wrong. The one question still left to ponder is that Balochistan, including its capital, has been on fire more or less since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in 2006 and the CPEC is a brand new (ie this year’s) development. So what explains the violence for a period of nearly a decade till the inking of the accord with China merely a few weeks ago?
Who’ll need a reminder Balochistan was more or less peaceful after the turmoil of the 1970s ended in the final years of the decade till 2006 when, following the rape of a doctor allegedly by an army officer in Sui, an angry Nawab Akbar Bugti took the woman’s side, took to the mountains and earned the wrath of the military ruler? He was killed in an army assault on his hideout.
From then on, what was (a low-intensity) Baloch angry reaction was mishandled to a point where it exploded into a full-blown insurgency. The state which, to my mind at least, initiated this spiral by killing Bugti then used brutal measures, including a kill and dump policy, to deal with the armed separatists.
Pakistan’s fight against extremism was always going to be uphill, given how ideologically motivated and well-entrenched the militants are.
For their part, some of the separatist groups resorted to mindless violence and didn’t even shy away from the mass murder of dispossessed labourers, the daily wage earner, from other provinces working in mines and on other projects in Balochistan. A tragic spiral ensued where the state and some of the insurgent groups didn’t even spare respected academics and saw many Baloch and non-Baloch teachers and professors mowed down in the streets of Quetta.
Who’d be surprised if powers hostile to Pakistan drooled at this opportunity and clandestinely entered the fray to back their own proxies? If this had not created enough of a crisis, rather than enforce the law even-handedly, the state was seen to mindlessly start encouraging armed surrogate groups to join its battle against what it saw as foreign-funded armed separatists.
This madness continued since the early 2000s when many Afghan Taliban relocated to Quetta post-9/11 US military action against their country. This relocation of the Taliban leaders to Quetta and other parts of the province was accompanied by the positing of their handlers in the security services to the province too. These were no ordinary handlers. In a number of cases they shared not only the language of the Afghan Taliban but also their ideology.
Therefore, when such a security set-up was tasked with also dealing with the Baloch insurgency, seen as secular in its ethos, the proxies that were sought out, armed and empowered had to have religion at their heart by definition. The loyalty of such proxies in Afghanistan and India-held Kashmir had been long established, even if the long-term disaster they turned out to be is hardly ever acknowledged by the creators. So what if they were sectarian, even takfiri in some cases.
The one big casualty of this strategy is Quetta’s Shia Hazara community. Having faced a daily routine of murder and even mass murder the relatively small community has lost a disproportionately large number of lives in targeted shootings and bombings.
Dubbed ‘children of a lesser god’, the community is marginalised and confined to ghettos in the provincial capital. Hazaras say many of their community have lost their livelihoods as they can’t venture out of their enclaves without fear of the assassins who seem to operate with impunity all over the city.
One source told me that one of the most active sectarian groups in Quetta was once restricted to Saryab Road and numbered no more than a few dozen. Now it has thousands of members and spread its tentacles to Shaldara, Satellite Town, Kasi Road, Toghi Road, McKongy Road and Balochi Street to name just a few areas.
The rapid expansion of the influence of this takfiri group, at least in the case of Balochistan, is being attributed to what the authorities are believed to see as its patriotic credentials. It has allegedly been given such a free hand for such a long time that, some security sources fear, it’ll be difficult to rein in even if a decision is taken to put it on a leash.
Pakistan’s fight against extremism was always going to be uphill, given how well-funded, ideologically motivated and well-entrenched the militants have now become. Even as the current army chief shrugged away the procrastination of his predecessor to take on the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and ordered a clean-up, many spoke of a need to cast the net wider.
Any action against one set of extremists, while leaving others untouched, is always going to be fraught with dangers. Violence in Balochistan and to an extent even in Karachi can’t be seen as different to that in Fata.
The operation against the TTP is progressing apace and the writ of the state being restored slowly but surely. Clearly, this even-handed law enforcement by state forces is the way to go. Use of proxies and surrogates always creates multiple agendas and will lead to a disaster.
Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn. firstname.lastname@example.org