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State of breakdown

September 01, 2012

DUMPED bodies, missing people, sectarian killings: most headlines about the law and order situation in Balochistan focus on these events. But what is perhaps just as disruptive to the fabric of life in that province, and gets far less attention, is how the machinery that runs Balochistan is under attack. The assassination of a district and sessions judge in Quetta on Thursday may have been carried out for any of a number of reasons: because he was a settler, for sectarian reasons, or simply to undermine the state. Whatever the motives, it highlighted how lack of security in Balochistan is making it near-impossible in certain areas to carry out the daily work of administration that keeps a society going. Reports are emerging from Dera Bugti, for example, that many if not most government officials posted there, including doctors, teachers, engineers and other civil servants, stay away from the area; the deputy commissioner and district police chief live in Sui, not in the district headquarters. Some of this might be driven by dishonesty within the system, especially at the lower levels, because institutions lack even the will or capacity to enforce rules. But sections of Dera Bugti also remain no-go areas, despite denials by Balochistan government officials. In parts of the province, civil servants are making the choice between doing their jobs and saving their lives.

A report by the HRCP indicates what a complex nexus of disruptive actors is holding life in the province at a standstill: from our own security establishment and a government lacking political will to militant groups of various stripes and foreign hands exploiting the grievances Pakistan’s own policies have fostered. The result is a province in which the state has, in parts, effectively ceased to function. But it is also a place where NGOs fear to tread, driven away by threats, kidnappings and killings. Without a functioning state to provide basic services, private organisations to fill the gap or lawmakers committed to development, the people of Balochistan are effectively on their own.

Meanwhile, the disappearances and killings continue. On Thursday, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the HRCP announced that 450 dead bodies have been discovered and over 1,300 people have gone missing in the province during the current government’s tenure. These figures may be lower according to some estimates, but the scale of this problem is only one aspect of it. Through a combination of indifference, wrongheaded policies and sheer fear, the state continues to create a mess in Balochistan while leaving its people to suffer the consequences on their own.