THE traditionally secular nature of Baloch society has been under threat for some time, and things appear to be taking a turn for the worse. A report in this paper recently detailed the growing persecution of the small community of Zikris — a little-known Islamic sect — who are concentrated mainly in southern Balochistan. In July, several Zikris were injured when a bus carrying members of the community was the target of a roadside bomb in Khuzdar, and the following month their Khana-i-zikr in district Awaran was attacked. Six worshippers were killed and seven injured. Around 400 Zikris have moved out of the area after the incident. Members of the community have also been singled out in various cases of looting in Awaran and Turbat. These incidents have reportedly begun to vitiate the traditionally harmonious relationship between Zikris and other Muslim sects whose lives are often intertwined through ties of kinship.
Although the Zikris — unlike the Hazaras — are ethnic Baloch, there has been a consistent effort led by religious parties in the province to marginalise them on account of what are considered their unorthodox practices. These efforts gained further strength from regional developments, such as the Afghan war of the early ’80s, which led to the proliferation of madressahs in the province churning out jihadis for the next-door theatre of war. Upon returning home, the governance void that has long been Balochistan allowed them to entrench themselves, and sow discord among the Baloch along religious lines. By doing so, they also served the interests of state elements cynically patronising ideologically-driven extremist groups to counter the Baloch insurgency which, like the society from which it arises, is secular in character. A people divided are, after all, easier to control. This provincial government, with its nationalist credentials and representative aspects, is better placed than many others to demonstrate a real understanding of the problems that bedevil the province. But it has yet to demonstrate it has the courage to do something about them.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2015