ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday refused to accept the main demand of Shia leadership and Hazara community for army deployment in Quetta although the military was ready to take on the responsibility.
“The decision for not calling in army under Section 245 of the Constitution was made by the political leadership. The armed forces are not reluctant to provide security to the Hazaras,” a senior military official told Dawn after Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf at the Presidency to discuss the situation arising out of Saturday’s Quetta bombing.
Had the government asked for it, the official said, the army was ready to take action against the killers.
Defending the government’s decision, Law Minister Farooq H. Naek said: “The situation is not so bad that army should be deployed in the city.”
Shia leadership and Hazara community elders had presented a 23-point charter of demand after the massacre and their main plea was handover of Quetta’s security to the army.
The government’s negotiating team that travelled to Quetta for talks with the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) and Hazara leaders, accepted 22 of the demands, but persuaded the other side to compromise on the central demand. The non-acceptance of the main demand led to confusion about ending the sit-ins, many of which continued late into the night.
Speaking about the confusion, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who led the government delegation at the talks, said the agreement was holding. “They have decided to bury the bodies of the blast victims on Wednesday morning. Till then protestors in Quetta will remain sitting with the bodies. The media twisted the situation and reported that the Hazaras continued their sit-in,” he said.
The government had been averse to army deployment after the Jan 10’s bombing as well. However, it had accepted the demand for imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan. It is believed that the government’s unwillingness to army deployment has been caused by its fear of losing more space to the army on national security, which is already dominated by the armed forces.
At the Presidency meeting, Gen Kayani was informed that intelligence-driven targeted operations against those involved in the carnage would be launched by the Frontier Corps.
Personnel of the Balochistan Constabulary and the Balochistan Reserve Police will also be put at the disposal of the FC to meet manpower requirement for the operations.
The government adopted a two-pronged strategy for making the MWM and Hazara leaders budge on the demand for an army-led operation in Quetta. It launched an operation, killing the “mastermind” of the Jan 10 attack and his accomplices and arresting a former provincial minister accused of patronising sectarian elements. And it won over some of the Hazara leaders.
It was surprising that suddenly the FC received a tip-off about a Lashkar-i-Jhangvi hideout in the suburbs of Quetta and carried out an operation in which four terrorists were killed and seven, including a high value target, were arrested.
Those killed in the operation were Shah Wali, the LeJ commander and main planner of Alamdar Road attack of Jan 10, who was also involved in targeted killing of Hazara people, murders of some police officers and a judge and attacks on pilgrims’ buses in Mastung; Abdul Wahab alias Doctor, the recruiter of the shooters and head of target indication ring; Naeem Khan, a close associate of known terrorist Usman Khalid Kurd; and target killer Anwar Khan.
Security officials claimed that their action against the LeJ had foiled another major attack on Hazara people.
The government also persuaded Hazara tribe chief Sardar Saadat and Hazara Democratic Party head Abdul Khaliq Hazara to give up their demand for army action. The two leaders clearly said during the talks that they did not want army to be involved.
Asked about yielding on the core demand, acting chief of the MWM Allama Amin Shaheedi, said: “No option was left for us after the stakeholders (Hazaras) said they did not need army.”