Kuchlak attacks

August 18, 2019

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BALOCHISTAN faces multiple security challenges. While violence against the Shia Hazara has come down from where it was several years ago, when members of the community were massacred in the hundreds, the Hazara still do not have complete freedom of movement and security of life even in the provincial capital Quetta. Elsewhere, the secessionist Baloch insurgency is in a low phase, but the militants remain active. However, it is difficult to say who was responsible for the two attacks on Friday and Saturday in Kuchlak, located on the outskirts of Quetta. Both attacks claimed the lives of prayer leaders. In Friday’s attack that targeted a mosque, at least four people lost their lives. Perhaps the most high-profile victim was mosque imam Hafiz Hamdullah, said to be a brother of Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Haibatullah.

While both attacks must be strongly condemned, they do raise several questions. If it is indeed proven that amongst those who died on Friday was a close relative of the Taliban chief, we must ask what the man was doing just a few kilometres outside Quetta. Rumours have swirled for years of a so-called Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban operating out of Balochistan, though the state has denied that Afghan fighters found sanctuary on Pakistani soil. While the dynamics of the Afghan war may well be changing as the Americans try to woo the Taliban, Pakistan, for its own security, must ensure that no foreign militant outfits are using its soil as a refuge. Moreover, if investigations reveal that foreign intelligence was behind the Kuchlak attacks, then the state must explain how hostile forces were able to carry out an act of terrorism with relative ease on Pakistani soil. Balochistan, as indicated above, is prone to instability, which is why the security establishment must ensure that no hostile actors are able to exploit vulnerable areas. Whether it is foreign militants finding refuge in far-flung areas, or intelligence agencies of hostile states operating inside Pakistan, in both cases the state and the security establishment must maintain extra vigilance to prevent militants from using this country as a base against others, and to ensure internal security. These are times of tension, especially on the eastern border; there is no excuse for security lapses that can lead to loss of life in the country.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2019