The killing fields of Balochistan
Once again a sectarian attack has killed Shia Hazaras in Quetta. A van carrying members of the Hazara community was riddled with automatic arms fire in the Balochistan capital, killing five people, including a woman, and wounding six others. Riots broke out in the city after the incident, leading to more deaths and destruction. One policeman was killed and two protestors are reported to have been killed in an exchange of fire between protestors and the police while vehicles and buildings were torched. The Hazara Democratic Party and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party separately called for a shutterdown strike on Friday, a call that was supported by the ANP, JWP, BNP and Anjuman Tajiran Balochistan. The Tahafuz-e-Azadaran Council and the Balochistan Shia Conference have also come out with their response. While the former announced three days of mourning, the latter proposed the formation of a grand jirga comprising the PPP’s alienated Lashkari Raisani and other leaders to stop the systematic killings of the Hazara community. One report says the Taliban’s Jundullah faction has claimed responsibility for the dastardly attack. As if all this was not bad enough, on the very same day two UN workers were killed and one wounded in an ambush on their car near Mastung. Although no one has accepted responsibility, it may be recalled that Mastung was the site of one of the most gruesome Shia massacres when people were taken off a bus and shot in cold blood. Whether the latter attack has a sectarian colour or not is not known at this time, but there is little doubt that the killings of Hazara Shias in Balochistan is beginning to take on a sinister pattern. One reason why this may be so is that the Hazara community is known as one of the most peaceful, law abiding and hard working communities in the province. Perhaps the sectarian terrorists see them as ‘easy pickings’. The latest victims of this dance macabre have been added to the thousands of victims of sectarian killings since Ziaul Haq’s unleashing of Sunni extremist groups in the 1980s. What is surprising in the whole episode is that after the pattern of sectarian attacks against the Hazara community cane to the surface in recent months, why have the law enforcement authorities fallen asleep instead of taking extraordinary measures to protect the vulnerable community?
One explanation for this lapse may be sought in the fact that the law enforcement agencies have their hands full in combating the Baloch nationalist insurgency, which by now has spread to virtually the whole province. While the military authorities and the hated FC seem to be concentrating on trying to eliminate all active nationalists, whether moderate or militant, through their ‘kill and dump’ policy, the disturbed conditions in Balochistan have left space for sectarian terrorists and even criminal gangs to freely indulge in kidnappings for ransom and other crimes without let or hindrance. In the context of the newfound interest by some US Congressmen in Balochistan’s plight, it is advisable that the civilian leadership in the province and the Centre wake up to their responsibilities, take control of the province’s affairs, stop Balochistan turning increasingly into a killing field, and open a channel of talks with the estranged Baloch nationalist leadership and all other stakeholders to bring peace back to the province through political means. If they fail the people of Balochistan in continuing to show their helplessness in the province’s affairs at the hands of the military, history may one day record how Balochistan was steadily driven out of the federation. If such a cataclysmic development were to actually transpire, what would be left of Pakistan?