Disturbing questions

February 18, 2013


WITH each attack on Balochistan’s Hazara Shias, it becomes harder to understand why those responsible continue to get away with their agenda of wiping out the community. Who carries out the attacks, and where they are based — in and around Quetta and Mastung, the home base of former chief minister Aslam Raisani — is publicly known. The madressahs that have mushroomed in these areas since the spread of extremist religious ideologies to the province exist in plain sight. And the attacks on Hazaras take place in certain areas and have demonstrated speci-fic patterns. So why the continuing intelligence failure? There are the straightforward explanations: that even if security agencies know which groups are responsible, it is hard to track them as they move around to avoid capture. That it isn’t possible to completely guard all civilian areas against attacks at all times. And that intelligence-sharing between agencies isn’t happening. The military intelligence agencies are better equipped and informed than civilian and police agencies, but poor coordination means that information isn’t used effectively.

But then there are the more sinister explanations, and the longer Hazaras continue to get killed, the more strength these will gain. Baloch nationalists claim that the state is using — and therefore patronising — anti-Shia groups to fight them. According to that narrative, Sunni extremism is foreign to the secular nature of Baloch politics and has been cultivated for a purpose, so that in Balochistan these militants are not the anti-state elements they are elsewhere in the country. Here they are a tool, and in the state’s calculation, using them has the inconvenient but accepted side effect of sectarian conflict. As attacks continue unabated, this theory is gaining currency. Locals point out that the base of anti-Shia ideology in the province is in the former chief minister’s stronghold in an area with a heavy Frontier Corps presence; or that two of the leaders of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Balochistan faction escaped a high-security prison in Quetta’s cantonment area; or that some pro-state Baloch groups have links to Sunni extremism.

Official denials will at this point not be enough. Only tough action to stop the attacks will. In part this is for historical reasons; though there are signs the state may be moving away from its earlier policy of supporting certain militants elsewhere in the country, memories of support for ‘useful’ militants still linger. And in the case of Balochistan, continued failure to do something about an obvious problem is reviving them. Is Balochistan’s sectarian problem an intelligence failure? Or is it deliberate negligence? Unless something changes on the ground, those questions will continue to be asked.