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Balochistan cauldron


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THE latest bloodbath in Quetta is yet another grim reminder of Balochistan’s dangerous slide into anarchy. The gruesome killing of women students and the subsequent siege of the Bolan Medical Complex indicate the growing stridency of the militants and raises serious questions about our counterterrorism efforts.

Beyond any doubt the twin attacks are the work of the same militant nexus responsible for previous massacres of Hazara Shias in Quetta as well as other terrorist violence across the country.

It was a precisely organised and highly coordinated militant attack in the city that has been drenched in blood so often in recent times. The suicide bombings and gunfire inside the hospital were aimed at causing maximum casualties. The target was ostensibly Hazara girls, but an apparent miscalculation led to the militants bombing a bus carrying students belonging to a mix of ethnic groups.

The terrorists had plotted to kill more members of the Hazara community who would have rushed to the hospital to see the victims. Things may not have gone according to plan; nonetheless the bombing and indiscriminate shooting inside the hospital killed many people and a senior government official.

As in the past, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) lost no time in claiming responsibility for the carnage, flaunting the brazenness of the terrorist network.

It was the first major incident of violence since the newly elected government has taken charge in the province and had raised hopes of normality being restored.

The Quetta carnage happened hours after the destruction of the Quaid residency in Ziarat by the Balochistan Liberation Army. There appears to be no connection between the two terrorist acts. But both served the same purpose of embarrassing the newly installed provincial government led by Dr Abdul Malik Baloch. Both groups seek to destabilise the democratic process.

That underscores the complexity of Balochistan’s situation and the grave challenge faced by the new nationalist government. The attack on the Ziarat residency was much more symbolic and shows the desperation of the separatists who seem to have lost a lot of ground because of the success of the electoral process in the province.

The separatists sought to disrupt the elections, which they believed would damage their cause for independence. The decision by the nationalist groups to return to the democratic process also dealt a huge blow to the insurgents.

Now with a democratically elected nationalist government seeking a political resolution of the Balochistan crisis, it is certainly not a happy situation for the rejectionists. The bombing of the residency was a clear warning to the provincial as well as federal governments.

It was also meant to sabotage the government’s offer for dialogue with the insurgents. Such terrorist actions may create problems for the nationalists and strengthen the elements within the security agencies advocating the use of brute force to crush the insurgents.

Violent sectarian militancy in Balochistan, however, poses a much greater threat to the stability not only of the province but of the country as well. The massive escalation in sectarian-based terrorist actions in recent years highlights the strengthening nexus between the LJ, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and elements of the Afghan Taliban who have a huge sanctuary in the province.

What is most disturbing is the impunity with which the militant network continues to operate and carry out terrorist attacks. The way in which the militants carrying explosives and sophisticated firearms entered the hospital indicates the complete collapse of security at important installations. It was certainly not the first such incident when the militants carried out an attack inside a hospital. Countering sectarian terrorism and improving the security system is going to be a serious challenge for the new provincial administration.

While Balochistan, particularly Quetta, has become the main centre of gravity of Sunni sectarian militancy, the latter is certainly not an isolated provincial phenomenon. The problem is much more deeply rooted and has links with the terrorist networks operating in Punjab and other parts of the country.

There is a definite link between the LJ and TTP. The tendency of political parties and security agencies to draw a distinction between the two is disastrous. By offering to talk to the TTP the government would legitimise militancy, thereby providing more space to the sectarian extremists. The policy of appeasement will only increase the militant threat to the country’s unity and integrity.

The issue of sectarian militancy in Balochistan does not have piecemeal solutions. There is a need for a comprehensive national counterterrorism and counter-radicalisation policy to deal with this growing menace. There is also a need to further strengthen anti-terrorism laws. Under existing laws it is impossible to convict any terrorists.

Foreign funding for radical madressahs and sectarian outfits has contributed hugely in fuelling religious extremism in the province. The security agencies too in the past propped up these extremist groups to counter Baloch nationalists groups, with disastrous consequences. It will take a massive effort now to dismantle those networks. But it has to be done to salvage the situation.

Sectarian militancy is only one aspect of the Balochistan cauldron. To deal with the other dimensions of the long festering crisis in the province, the government needs to address a fundamental problem: grievances of the Baloch people. The trust of the people cannot be restored unless the extrajudicial murders of political activists are stopped and people illegally detained by the security agencies are freed or produced before court if there are any charges against them.

The widespread political discontent and breakdown of law and order gives the militants huge space to operate. That is what has been happening in Balochistan. The new government has the goodwill and political support to deal with the challenges. But is it up to taking the daunting challenges head on?

The writer is an author and journalist. Twitter: @hidhussain

Comments (17) Closed

mohammad Jun 18, 2013 07:22am

the problem is with some of our criminal countrymen. it needs one dirty person to kill one hundred thousand innocent people. overall we MUSLIMS are united, but certain criminals within us are creating problems.overall we do not want to harm others. ISLAM DOES NOT ALLOW ANYBODY WHO IS INNOCENT TO BE KILLED. a bit of radicalisation took these killer people away. these people need to understand that killing an innocent will take the killer to hell forever. WE NEED MORE TOLERANCE AND RESPECT FOR OTHERS WHICH IS THE BASIC TEACHING OF ISLAM.

kamakazi Jun 18, 2013 07:55am

descent into chaos........

Shehzad Obaid Jun 18, 2013 11:46am

I hardly condemned some ideas of this article which ignore the real shape of Cauldron of Balochistan.As the writer Zahid Hussain figure out that the real target of Lashkar a Jangui was Azara rather the militant organization had deliberately claim that the attack was in reaction of operation on militant at Kharotabad, Quetta where according to the LJ several women were killed.Secondly, the failure of elections in Balochistan should be clearly declared the 3% of turn out in overall Balochistan as the article ignore it by notifying the governament of Dr. Malik Baloch . Beside that late night talking at local news channel the Baloch sepratist leader Hair Biar Marri hardly condemned the cornage of women university students that show a clear no to the militant nexus .

Shaikh Mohommd Jun 18, 2013 12:30pm

Balochistan is occupied by Pakistan Army and it gives a free hand to Pakistan Army personnel who act as stooge to US. Pakistan Army is a mercenary army hell bent to carry out the diktat of Washington.

Dr Khan Jun 18, 2013 01:16pm

You could start with stopping India from funding the BLA

samina noman Jun 18, 2013 02:39pm

few points that come to my mind. 1. happy to see so many article about Balochistan. atleast we are talking now. 2. if negotiations create a space for the militants it also creates space for the sate also. if they reorganize and become strengthened why cant the state take advantage of the same space. is it incompetence or lack or resolve? 3 legislation on terrorism, negotiations and a realistic approach to security policy must be done simultaneously or it wouldn't work.

Jaideep Gupta Jun 18, 2013 02:43pm

fantastic article.

Jaideep Gupta Jun 18, 2013 02:45pm

fantastic article.

Adeel Jun 18, 2013 06:36pm

So what are the Government and people doing about LJ when it has already claimed the responsibility for the bombing? Now, if it was a drone attack, people would go absolutely mad. Can we blame this also on India and the West? Anyone can be held responsible except for us Muslims and Islam.

Ahmad Jun 18, 2013 06:41pm

I have not heard yet from any one talking about the mother of all the evils. It started with Ayub Khan's regime when he deprived the Baluchis of their wealth by siphoning the natural resources revenue to build Islamabd and to get rich himself in the name of ONE UNIT, the biggest fraud in the history of Pakistan. The Baluchis were left with nothing. No money for education, no health care and no job creation. All the hiring was done in Lahore, seat of the province/ONE UNIT. Obviously all hired people were not Baluchis, and now their children are ruling Baluchistan, who are legally Baluchi. This is a harsh reality and has to be accepted publicly. The Baluchis owe an apology from the government for the bad treatments they got from army and various regimes.

Dr. D. Prithipaul Jun 18, 2013 08:34pm

What the author describes is true to tradition. The logic of his argument is based on a perception of a narrow locality. Viewed in the context of the totality of the country, and with an assessment of the long term into the future, there should be an acceptance of what is a normal functioning of the state. True: the victims of the bombers suffer wounds and death - for a while, till their companions and sympathisers decide to reciprocate their victimhood. Pakistan is a merry-go-round of terror, for the establishmnt of which it spent billions. Does any one in the ISI, for example, agree with Zahid Husain?

Raja Jun 18, 2013 09:08pm

Pak always learned their lessons hard way.

Tayyab Jun 19, 2013 01:22am

This is a terrible situation. Zia's blind, fundamentalism forced upon us coupled with years of our army's support of and reckless bond with the terrorist among us have led to this very sorry state. God save Pakistan!

jon Jun 19, 2013 07:31am

@mohammad: Tolerance and respect will ONLY come if you stop killing each other; too many innocent people have died for any respect to be shown, and all Islam with it's sectarian violence is doing right now is showing how little love for each other there really is..

Sharan Jun 19, 2013 07:40am

@mohammad: The number of such extreme elements are very large in Pakistan. They are powerful and move around without fear of the security forces. Overall the "majority" does not want to harm anyone, yet the slaughter of thousands over the years does not alarm anyone.and continues daily. A "bit of radicalization" should be controlled, TOLERANCE and RESPECT needs to be instilled.... etc. Quite so, quite dispassionate. Remarkable insight. Women are targeted, Hazara community is targeted. Education and learning is being targeted. People watch, and keep quiet. If there is heaven on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this,

Dr.Saidal khan Jun 19, 2013 08:28am

First, we have to be clear in our decision and now is the time. A clear cut and concrete policy should be made against the L.J. In the past and even its well known to the citizen of the Quetta that how L.J was shifted from other province to Baluchistan, and who is still supporting them. If our agencies are unable to pick and locate their whereabouts and cut their supply lines, then why spend so much on the useless agencies (which personally I think they are supporting or used to support them). Secondly, regarding the Baluch separatist. I think the writer is either completely ignorant of their success in failing the recent elections(with candidates being declared with only securing 565 votes) or is relying on typically censored/biased (military controlled) information. Thirdly, it is a big ask from a govt . which is installed (as stated by the writer), by who ??? people from this province know it very well.

Nazia Zainab Jun 19, 2013 01:26pm

Quid's Residency turned into ashes, Great Loss for Nation!