THE story is not new. But with each attack, the targeting of the Shia Hazara community becomes a more firmly entrenched feature of life in Balochistan today. Thursday’s bomb attack on a bus of pilgrims returning from Iran was only the latest in a string of incidents that have taken the lives of at least 60 Hazaras this year alone, including students and people from the community simply going about their daily business. Easily identifiable because of their physical features, neighbourhoods and the routes they take for routine pilgrimages, Balochistan’s Hazaras are now sitting ducks, victims of a relentless campaign that can only be compared to ethnic cleansing in its laser-like focus and its desire to kill as many members of the community as possible.
Given this focus and the pattern of attacks that has been established, the inability of the Balochistan government and paramilitary troops to protect the community can only be the result of extreme incompetence or a lack of commitment. Many of the attacks take place along the set routes that buses take when transporting pilgrims to and from Iran. Policing along these routes has reportedly been stepped up, but surely they can be monitored in a way that is better able to identify suspicious activity or prevent attackers from planting bombs. As for police escorts to accompany pilgrims, these have clearly not been adequate; if Balochistan’s politicians can be provided with extensive and expensive security arrangements, why is the same level of protection not being provided at least to Hazara pilgrims?
The more effective method, of course, would be to tackle this problem at its roots, going after the militants and dismantling their infrastructure rather than trying to prevent already planned attacks at the eleventh hour. Balochistan’s anti-Shia militancy has morphed into a force in its own right, with its own motivations, operational bases and centres of propaganda. For this, too, there are clues: the locations of madressahs propagating anti-Shia views and some of the bases of the Balochistan arm of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi have been identified, and include the chief minister’s own base of Mastung. In the face of such a predictable pattern of attacks and available information about those behind them, the failure to prevent them has only fuelled speculation that Balochistan’s civilian and security establishments are deliberately not taking action against sectarian militancy. These theories reflect the lack of trust in the provincial set-up, which is seen as being focused on clamping down on separatists instead. Whatever the thinking among state actors, the continued targeting of the Hazaras is increasingly becoming a massive abdication of responsibility on their part.