A Pakistani rescue worker is seen through the bullet-riddled window of a passenger train following an attack by unknown gunmen in Mach near Quetta, Pakistan Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. At least five people were killed and more than a dozen others injured when a passenger train was attacked by unknown gunmen in the southwest Pakistani province of Balochistan, local media reported.
A Pakistani rescue worker is seen through the bullet-riddled window of a passenger train following an attack by unknown gunmen in Mach near Quetta.—AP Photo

KARACHI: It is a chilling scene once one realises what is going on, the real horror coming from the cool and unhurried manner of the killers.

Passengers are forced off a bus by what appear to be militants. As a jihadi anthem blares in the background the militants surround them and force them to sit on the ground. Seconds later they open fire with Kalashnikovs, with the resulting carnage being graphically recorded.

A young boy is then seen clasping his hands and begging for mercy. A militant answers by calmly shooting him dead. Another militant walks around the bodies — slowly and deliberately firing into them, to ensure no one escapes. When it’s all over; the camera lens points to the ground as a militant, seen in the shadow, pumping his fist in delight.

This is a video — now posted on the internet — of the massacre of Hazara Shia pilgrims in Balochistan’s Mastung district last year.

For Pakistan’s government, Balochistan remains the most prominent policy failure. Violence has continued to escalate across the province since the PPP-led coalition took power in 2008.

A battle between nationalist insurgents and the Pakistani state is now a dirty and no-holds-barred war in which hundreds of civilians have been killed.

The latest disturbing trend is the increased targeting of Shias, especially the Hazara community. Over a hundred people belonging to them have been shot dead in the province.

The trend is disturbing as Balochistan has always been among the more tolerant of Pakistan’s provinces and sectarian attacks remained rare until 2001.

All that changed after extremist groups such as Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and Jaish-i-Mohammad were banned by General Pervez Musharraf in 2002. A crackdown by the regime followed, forcing their most dangerous militants and ideologues to move to the tribal region.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jq9idY7nPR8&feature=plcp&context=C42fa836VDvjVQa1PpcFO1cWh4PUma9d0kjxxoVjCeQ08uebBcMK4%3D

Punjabi Taliban

Here they came in contact with Taliban militants; both influenced each other and a new sectarian breed came into being in the form of the Punjabi Taliban, now led by Asmatullah Muavia and loyal to Hakimullah Mehsud.

Initially based in South Waziristan, the Punjabi Taliban were ousted after the military operation in 2009. In reprisal, they carried out high-profile attacks such as the one on GHQ in Rawalpindi. Sources say that that particular incident was the turning point and led to a re-think by the establishment.

Security officials — who wish to remain anonymous — say this was because the GHQ standoff was resolved not just by army commandos but mainly through negotiations by Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, chief of the SSP, who convinced those inside to surrender.

Army officials dismiss these claims. They say military action broke the siege and that the so-called Punjabi Taliban remains their number one enemy.

It may well be that both stories are true, as one security official points out. Ludhianvi’s intervention — while crucial — was definitely only limited to the GHQ attack. He appears to have little control over the Punjabi Taliban leadership, which continues to wreak all sorts of havoc across Pakistan.

Official protocol

However, it’s also clear that Ahmed Ludhianvi now enjoys official protocol. The SSP and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Sipah-i-Sahaba’s current title, are both supposedly proscribed, yet these organisations hold rallies in major cities with ease where arms are openly displayed.

Today it’s clear that the SSP and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, an even more extreme sectarian outfit, are inter-linked. Maulana Ludhianvi admitted as much to the BBC when he said in an interview that Malik Ishaq, the LJ chief, was released on his guarantees and that the notorious militant now answers to him.

Since Malik Ishaq’s release it’s become easier for the LJ leaders to move around, and they have since started expanding and setting up cells in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

These cells are made of locals and have been greatly strengthened, especially in Balochistan — where they operate independently of the LJ central command. There the traditionally secular Baloch — and particularly Brahui — are increasingly turning to the radical Islamist militancy espoused by SSP/LJ.

Security officials — and Shia leaders — say this turn of events is complemented by the growth of sectarian madressahs there. Perhaps the largest Sipah-i-Sahaba seminary outside southern Punjab is in Mastung, in the heart of territory controlled by the Raisani tribe.

Another major reason, according to Shia leaders, is the alleged support by intelligence agencies to groups of pro-government Baloch tribesmen.

Most of these have dual identities — the second being outright sectarian and extremist. It is no surprise, then, that the largest of the groups is considered to be the de facto Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in Balochistan.

All that is perhaps irrelevant for the intelligence agencies, whose main aim is the tried tactic of using religion to suppress nationalism.

Led by a close relative of a senior politician from the province, some of LJ Balochistan’s more high-profile attacks include the killing of Baloch nationalist leader Habib Jalib Baloch and the attacks on the Hazara Shias pilgrims in Mastung.

A senior member of the group accepts it has been involved in attacks to protect the Baloch community – it denies it’s carried out attacks on Shias.

“We are only carrying out defensive actions against people who are supported by foreign intelligence services. The Baloch people are with Pakistan – it’s just that they are scared of the militants.”

He adds that while their group isn’t anti-Shia — the community has elements that act as agents of Iran in Pakistan and they should refrain from this.

Complicity

But Baloch nationalist leaders say a perception is being built up that the Baloch community are targeting the Hazara.

“The Baloch have always been a secular people – it’s the Pashtuns rather than us who have had problems with the Hazaras,” says Nawabzada Jamil Bugti.

“What’s happening is with the complicity of the agencies – everybody knows that the areas where most of the attacks take place – like Mastung – have several FC checkposts nearby.”

“How can the killers escape without their knowledge – or consent?”

While insisting that the Baloch as a whole are not involved in the killings, Nawabzada Bugti acknowledges that some Baloch may be involved.

“The agencies are doing what they did in Bangladesh – where they created groups such as Al Badr and Al Shams.”

“Here it’s the groups like the Baloch Musalla Difa Tanzeem – who regularly target Baloch leaders.”

“If they can kill their own people – what’s to stop them from killings Hazaras on the orders of the agencies?”

Increasingly, it’s LJ Balochistan that has the deadliest militants in the country, men such as Saifullah Kurd and Ramzan Mengal, each responsible for dozens of killings.

Both men added to claims of official complicity when they escaped from maximum-security Anti-Terrorism Force jail in Quetta’s heavily guarded cantonment area. Security officials say they continue to enjoy patronage by some senior Baloch tribal leaders. Hazara leaders in Quetta openly accuse prominent members of provincial Baloch government of allegedly protecting sectarian killers.

But others claim that tribal leaders have no choice; they are increasingly being held hostage to pressure from intelligence agencies and their own increasingly militant Sunni tribesmen. Whatever be the real reason, Balochistan is now being regarded as the biggest, and safest, sanctuary for the country’s fiercest sectarian militants.

The writer is the BBC’s correspondent in Karachi. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Updated Apr 11, 2012 06:01am

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Comments (Closed)


ali
Apr 11, 2012 05:25pm
logically and pragmatically approached the situation of balochistan
Syed
Apr 11, 2012 05:16pm
Shame on you. Poor Hazara people are getting killed everyday yet none of them retaliate. They are not being targeted because they are from hazara instead because they are Shia. its the universal truth that Lashkar Jhangvi openly admit killing the shias. Atleast don't call it a one sided column and insult everyone's intelligence
Shairyar Baig
Apr 11, 2012 04:01pm
I lived in Quetta for 4 years in my childhood i cant digest what happened to this place....
Cyrus Howell
Apr 12, 2012 02:02am
"Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities." -- Voltaire
consultar
Apr 11, 2012 03:14pm
it's a totally one side column i am totally against of your views and i can make you tell the core problem......
Sadiq Noyan
Apr 11, 2012 03:08pm
I appreciate your writing skill and balanced article about Baluchistan, Its the real journalism not to take side but write only truth. If Pakistan have more and more intellectuals just like yourself then there will be no doubt that the root of democracy and freedom of speech will flourish. Sadiq Noyan UK
Salman
Apr 11, 2012 04:22pm
Very well written indeed! Good informative piece but my only question would be Why is the "free and fair" media silent about it? Are they that afraid of the militants?
Adil
Apr 12, 2012 12:15pm
Well written article. Unfortunately very few in Pakistan Media have courage to speak out against organized terrorists. I hope more and more come out and speak out against these killings and condemn the Killers Openly.
ali mukhtar
Apr 14, 2012 03:30am
very well written, i admire the writers and news agencies efforts of trying to reviel the truth, unlike other new agencies that always say the cause of the attack could not be ascertained.... Ali
Fahd Bukhari
Apr 17, 2012 06:07pm
Great Article Shoaib...
Abdur R. Talukder
Apr 15, 2012 03:28pm
Thanks for your nice presentation Mr. Shoaib. It seems to me you expressed my own views. i don't feel comfort with this kind of shockful developments. The only things I know we should not be identified or,differentiated with anything. You are Pakistani, and above all you are Muslims believe on one Holy Book and Allah (SWT) with Prophet Muhammad (SM) as the last messenger of Allah. If it is why we are killing and shedding bloods for a mere thing. Everybody has rights to live in this country and everybody should be treated as an essential part of this great nation and nationality. Please, stop the cruelty,devoted yourselves for building up the country with one voice. Trust each other. Mistrust can only bring out destruction and nothing else and ultimately it will ruin your lives too. The more chaos and conflict ultimately will diminish the power and prestige of your country outside of the world. You will be hated by others and ultimately will create a path for the foreign invaders! May Allah(SWT) saves you from this kind of hateful activities and save your homeland. Amin!