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Dera Allahyar blast

August 15, 2011

A POWERFUL explosion in the Dera Allahyar area of Jaffarabad district, Balochistan, on Independence Day was a grim reminder of the ongoing problems in the province. At least 14 people were killed in the attack on the two-storey restaurant building frequented by labourers and workers. There was no obvious target at first glance — except local reports suggest that the national anthem and other pro-Pakistan songs were being played at the restaurant, and quite likely drew the ire of separatist militants. A hitherto unknown group, the Baloch Liberation Tigers, has claimed responsibility for the attack, but given the area — Jaffarabad district — suspicion has immediately fallen on Bugti insurgents. Offshoots of the Balochistan Republican Army, led by Brahmdagh Bugti from exile in Switzerland, have been known to claim attacks under various names. And Monday brought more violence against Baloch by Baloch as the Balochistan Liberation Front, believed to be the militant arm of the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad), claimed responsibility for two dead bodies which were discovered in a Quetta neighbourhood. The two men were allegedly killed for being informants of the state security apparatus.

Independence Day also brought a reminder, if one was needed, of the sins committed by the state against the Baloch. In an address to the nation from Islamabad, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that the government had decided to release all ‘political prisoners’ if they were not wanted in any other cases. The prime minister did not clarify who he was referring to as political prisoners, though. Are they the ‘missing persons’ believed to be picked up by the security and intelligence apparatus in Balochistan and kept in illegal custody?

The missing persons’ issue and an amnesty for Baloch insurgents are believed to be key to any process of reconciliation in Balochistan, so if the prime minister was hinting at some movement on one of those issues, it would be a welcome breakthrough. Then again, the prime minister and his government have established a reputation for promising much and delivering little. In the Balochistan context, the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package was announced with much fanfare in November 2009, but has delivered little in real terms. And in the meantime, a campaign of extrajudicial judicial killings in the province — so-called ‘kill and dump’ operations — has injected a new poisonous element into Baloch-state relations. With violence committed by both sides, the Baloch extremists and the state, fairly well established by now, the only plausible solution has also been apparent for some time: the political leadership must play its role in any reconciliation. Thus far, however, there has been no leadership from the political class.