EVENTS in Quetta yesterday demonstrated that the country remains vulnerable to meticulously planned urban terrorism of particularly grotesque dimensions.

It began with the targeted killing in the morning of senior lawyer Bilal Anwar Kasi, gunned down while travelling in his car. That was the opening salvo for mayhem on a much wider scale.

A suicide bomber struck at the gates of the Civil Hospital’s emergency department where a large number of people had gathered after his body was brought there.

At least 70 people died in the blast, and 100 were injured. Many of the dead included lawyers; several of them senior members of the fraternity who, it is said, were more vocal than most about human rights violations taking place in the province. Two cameramen from DawnNews and Aaj TV were also among the dead.

Violence in Balochistan is multifaceted and perpetrated by a variety of actors, including separatists, religious extremists and others, but the modus operandi in this case appears to indicate the involvement of religious extremists. And there has indeed been a claim of responsibility, albeit unsubstantiated, by at least one such outfit.

After a lull of several months, there have been indications that extremist groups are once again active in the city, with lawyers being the target in most incidents.

In June, the principal of the University of Balochistan’s law college was assassinated. On Aug 1, two Hazara men were shot dead. The next day, a lawyer was murdered in broad daylight by gunmen on a motorcycle. In response, pillion riding and the display of weapons in Quetta were banned. However, such cosmetic measures do little to thwart those bent on carnage.

Clearly, there has been an intelligence failure of grave proportions — even more so given the overt security footprint in a garrison town like Quetta.

While the immediate target may well have been the legal community, with the murder of Bilal Anwar Kasi acting as ‘bait’, there is little to illuminate the motive behind the atrocity.

Ongoing legal proceedings against individuals accused of terrorism could have been the trigger, but such large-scale attacks are typical of the blowback that militants had launched after the state began to go after them.

Moreover, lawyers, doctors and teachers are seen as part of the ‘intelligentsia’, and when they are targeted — especially through such wholesale slaughter — it casts a pall of gloom over society, especially in a province that has seen a heartbreaking decimation of its educated class through violence.

Such attacks also belie the claim by security forces and law-enforcement agencies that they have brought terrorism under control through ‘intelligence-based operations’.

Years of myopic and ultimately self-destructive policies have created a witches’ brew of militant groups and proxies in Balochistan acting at the behest of various quarters, not all of whom are foreign.

Do the authorities even have a road map that sees the people of this beleaguered province as more than cogs in a security state?

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2016

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