THE illusion of comparative peace, however tenuous, has been shattered. On Thursday evening, at least 20 were killed and over 30 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a Sufi saint’s shrine in Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi district. It being the day of the week considered most spiritually significant, and one on which the shrine was hosting a bimonthly event, the number of devotees present was larger than usual. Had it not been for a vigilant security guard who prevented the attacker from entering the main precinct of the shrine, the number of casualties would have certainly been far higher. This was the first major attack on a shrine after the horrific suicide bombing at Sehwan Sharif in Sindh on Feb 16, 2017, that left 80 dead and injured more than 250.
Whatever the level of violence that prevails in a country, one is never completely inured to mass casualty attacks. And it takes just one major attack to roll back to some extent, at least psychologically, the gains made in counterterrorism until that point. Clearly, despite many intelligence-based operations in the country, there remain groups of extremists who believe that anyone who does not espouse their austere brand of faith deserves to be annihilated. In fact, the explosion at Jhal Magsi was the third major attack on a shrine within the space of a year. A suicide bombing at the Shah Noorani shrine in a remote part of Khuzdar last November left over 50 dead and around 100 injured. After every such attack, the authorities vow that security will be enhanced at sensitive places, but complacency soon sets in. A couple more aspects are relevant here. Firstly, three out of four major terrorist incidents since the Quetta Civil Hospital bombing last year have been in Balochistan. It is well known that terrorist organisations — including elements from the militant Islamic State group — have found a foothold in the province, despite several operations against them. Several religiously motivated attacks in Sindh have also been traced to them. Secondly, Baloch-majority areas in the province — even where feudalism holds sway, such as in Jhal Magsi — have traditionally had a secular ethos. That is being corrupted slowly but surely by hard-line, radical elements that have insinuated themselves into Baloch society. The only route to a sustained solution is to reverse this trend and indiscriminately eradicate extremism in the province.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2017