Terror and bloodshed in Balochistan: Who’s to blame?

Published: July 25, 2012
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It is intelligence networks, local and foreign, that play a large part in clarifying the nature of these groups associated with violence and terror. GRAPHIC: ERUM SHAIKH

For several weeks, a group of coy Baloch men and women camped outside the Islamabad Press Club. Mostly young, many are members of the Baloch Student Organisation (Azad). Samina, 9-years-old, left her home in Mekran to demand justice for her father, whom she has never met. Behind her petite demure is a large poster with faces of the missing, abducted in various parts of Balochistan, accusing security agencies for the disappearance of many fathers, brothers and sons.

“No one is safe, there are arms everywhere,” said Governor of Balochistan, Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, at a civil society meeting in Quetta, as alarming levels of target killings, kidnappings and sectarian attacks continue to challenge the writ of law and order. There are four dimensions to the conflict, which are important to consider when understanding the vacuum in state power and ability to control violence.

The first is the nationalist insurgency, which has framed a larger discussion on Balochistan. The movement is typically associated with tribal groups such as the Bugtis, Marris and Mengals, who at various points in Pakistani history, aligned with and took up arms against the state.

However, the middle-class Baloch youth has become increasingly politicised through student organisations and online networks. For them, there are no rentier privileges offered by the state and nothing short of an independent Balochistan will resolve the current crisis.

Instead of being enrolled in schools and universities, many of these young Baloch like Samina, are vainly attempting to find the whereabouts of their family members who have gone missing for their alleged anti-state and separatist political views. In many of these enforced disappearances cases, First Information Reports (FIRs) have been registered but the families of the missing assert that there has been little effort by the police to investigate whether they are dead or alive.

The second dimension of the conflict is the spike of sectarian violence in many parts of the province. Target killings on motorbikes, large scale firing in markets and parks, and bomb attacks have been used to intimidate members of the Hazara community. Terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have often claimed responsibility.

Despite the proliferation of cases, according to Abdul Khaliq Hazara, Chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, the process of trail and prosecution remains slow on part of the police, local courts, and other law enforcement agencies. The impression is that law enforcement is complicit in these crimes and unwilling to take action, says a Hazara who travels with personal security guards, out of fear that any day could be his last.

The third dimension can be defined as a sort of contradiction between forces of modernity, that is, penetration of state and market structures versus traditional, tribal forms of authority and power.

Typically, this is referred to as a crisis of governance: the writ of the state is challenged by tribal structures, which continue to wield real power. This explains the situation of ‘under-development’ or the lack of adequate systems of administration, delivery of services and justice. It is particularly important when considering economic growth, the provision of education and health.

According to data collected the by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, there are four public sector universities in Balochistan. Professor Abdul Nabi, vice chancellor of Balochistan University, says that under such circumstance the future of Baloch youth cannot be bright and their frustration can only force more violence.

The fourth dimension is terrorism or the ‘war on terror’, militancy, radicalism and so on, which complicates the situation. Under this aegis various groups associated with the Taliban, al Qaeda and other radical/ sectarian groups that use violence to further their group have penetrated a certain public space in various parts of Pakistan, including Balochistan. While the presence of Quetta shura has been alleged, in particular, by the US media, foreign think-tanks and analysts, the details and personalities of this Shura remain somewhat vague.

It is intelligence networks, local and foreign, that play a large part in clarifying the nature of these groups associated with violence and terror. However, the activity of covert agencies has only accentuated the atmosphere of war, fear and insecurity.

The large number of missing persons in Balochistan is attributed to state security forces, who ignore the ambit of constitutionally defined means of law and justice, to eliminate threatening individuals. The Taliban Shura may or may not even exist but it has given leverage to security agencies to operate, and manipulate sectarian and nationalist fault lines.

The need for accountability of the security forces remains critical if the state desires to curb causes of conflict.

Fatima Mujtaba

Fatima Mujtaba

A graduate of New York University, Fatima is interested in culture, politics and literature. She enjoys engaging both in the 'Pakistani' and global dialectic and now works in the development sector in Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.