WHILE the level of extremist violence in the rest of Pakistan has fallen sharply over the past couple of years, Balochistan has seen no real reprieve.

In Quetta on Monday, four members of a Christian family were killed and one injured by gunmen while they were travelling in a rickshaw.

Belonging to Punjab, the family was visiting relatives in the Balochistan capital, and was likely being tailed by the assailants after they had identified them as Christians.

IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place a day after Easter, in a statement on its news website.

This is only the latest in the outfit’s campaign of violence against the community. Last December, a few days before Christmas, at least nine worshippers were killed and around 50 wounded when suicide bombers sent by IS struck a church in Quetta.

In May 2017, the group kidnapped two Chinese nationals from the same city, alleging they were preaching Christianity, and murdered them a few months later.

Balochistan has witnessed sickening levels of sectarian violence during the last several years, mainly against members of the Shia Hazara community who are particularly vulnerable because of their distinctive physical features.

Aside from targeted killings, the latest of which claimed one man’s life and injured another this Sunday, many Hazaras have also been massacred in large-scale bombings such as those in early 2013. Most often, it is the virulently anti-Shia Lashkar-i-Jhangvi that has taken responsibility for these attacks.

While there are known to be linkages between IS and LJ — they have in fact carried out a number of joint operations — and among other terrorist groups, the profile of IS in particular is in the ascendant.

Attacks targeting religious minorities in the province and beyond, such as the suicide bombing at the iconic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar mazar in Sindh last February which killed over 70 people, are increasingly being claimed by the outfit.

The Nacta chief’s warning less than a week ago, that IS poses a clear and present danger to Pakistan given its growing footprint in neighbouring Afghanistan, is no overstatement.

In this context, Balochistan is especially relevant. Its long-standing crisis of governance, much of it self-created, is conducive for violent extremist groups to flourish on its soil.

Even a small garrison town like Quetta apparently cannot be secured from terrorists bent on destroying Pakistan’s pluralistic heritage.

The state should direct all its energies into wiping out their safe havens in Balochistan.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2018

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