In the crosshairs

Published September 16, 2014
— File photo
— File photo

Mohammed Badal, who has been in the surgical unit 3 for six days, was being moved to a Higher Dependence Care (HDC) unit the day I reached Karachi’s Civil Hospital.

He is among the four survivors of the attack in Awaran district’s Teertej area, where three men on two motorbikes opened fire inside a Zikr-khana, killing six and injuring many others on Aug 29.

Badal and four others were brought to Karachi for surgeries. The others have been discharged, but Badal needs special care, say doctors.

On seeing me, the hospital staff got a bit apprehensive, pointing out that the patient needed to rest.

A visiting doctor told me that Badal sustained two bullet wounds in his stomach and liver which, he said, “has started acting up”.

His son and son-in-law were the only two people with him when I visited. They exchanged weary looks when asked about the incident. Lying on the bed with a small tube attached to his throat, Badal looked tired and asked me to speak to his son. In the end the son-in-law, Mohammad Ali, spoke on his behalf.

As we stood in the ward’s corridor, which stank of rotten food and urine, Ali began narrating what happened: “It was right after sunset. We were busy in Zikr when two motorbikes suddenly appeared. We heard the revving of motorbikes and were startled when the men, their faces hidden with keffiyeh, started shooting straight at the worshippers. People tried to hide themselves from the onslaught but there was no place to hide. Some pretended to be dead. As soon as they left, I checked my arms and legs to see whether I had been hit, but fortunately I survived,” he said, his trembling hands belying the calm in his voice.

“What was a bustling room with chants of Allah-o-Akbar echoing was now completely silent,” he told me. “On my left and right were bodies of people I knew, some I had grown up with.”

Badal was first taken to a nearby dispensary but there was no doctor. He was shifted to the Civil Hospital after a five-hour journey from Awaran to Karachi, during which he lost a lot of blood, Ali added.

Just then, another patient was brought to the HDC unit.

Ali made way for them to go inside, and then paused before finally saying, “I have a feeling that this attack was by outsiders.They are treating us the same way they treat Shia Hazaras. They killed them. And now it’s our turn. It can’t be the Baloch, I know. A Baloch won’t kill a Baloch for religion.”

Badal and his clan belong to the Zikri sect of Islam. Most people from this community have lived along the coastal line and in the southern part of Balochistan for centuries. Their rituals involve the remembrance of God through Zikr five times a day.

Annually, on the 27th of Ramazan, Zikris visit their holy shrine up in the mountains of Koh-i-Murad in Turbat, Kech district. Most locals say there was never an issue about their “non-traditional” rituals before and it is “strange why it would be an issue now”.

Veteran journalist Siddiq Baloch says that this is not the first attack on Zikris and, unfortunately, it is not going to be the last one.

Explaining, he says: “A hundred years ago, the Khan of Kalat started a movement to convert Zikris. Those who resisted were killed in the eventual bloodshed. Then, they faced persecution during the Zia regime in the 1980s. Gen Zia’s B-team took out small-scale processions across Pakistan against the Zikris. During the month of Ramazan, the buses of Zikri pilgrims going to Koh-i-Murad were looted by religious zealots. But the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, on becoming chief minister in 1988-89, protected them, giving the pro-government proxies a tough time.”

“They [Zikris] are non-conformists by nature and over the years as the insurgency gripped the province, they didn’t align themselves with anyone. This has angered the baray sahib. ‘Why doesn’t such a measly, small community come to me for help, so that I can use it the way I want to?’”

A day before the Aug 29 attack, there was a similar, lesser known attack in Awaran, in Turbat, on the main highway leading to Pidrak and Jamak.

According to an FIR filed by a daily wage earner in Turbat, between 25 and 30 armed men stopped pick-up trucks and passenger cars coming from Pidrak. Shahik Dinar and three other men were asked to sit along a riverbank as the men burnt down their pick-up trucks loaded with straw mats and wood.

After the looting, they abducted three men, Bahoot, Wali Mohammad and Badal Ahmed, who the locals said belonged to the Zikri sect.

Residing in Quetta and heading the provincial chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Tahir Khan says: “Basically a secular province, Balochistan has seen a slow persecution of minorities. We need to ask the government some serious questions. Who’s supporting and financing such groups? Why is there no intelligence on cases related to attacks on minorities? What became of the organisations that were proscribed in 2002? Under what name are they operating now? In more than 70 per cent of such cases, the victims choose not to register a case, which is shameful.”

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2014

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