Sunday, October 9, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 8, 2016

Balochistan’s lingering crisis Twin remote controlled blasts targeting the Quetta to Rawalpindi bound Jaffer Express have killed seven people, including two personnel of the Bomb Disposal Squad travelling on the train, and injured 20 at Ab-i-Gum in the Bolan Pass 70 kilometres from the provincial capital on October 7. The first blast, believed to have been remotely triggered, caused severe damage to a passenger bogie, while a second bomb exploded below another bogie just as the passengers were disembarking from the by now stationary train. The Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility, justifying the attack as being aimed at military personnel who use the train for journeys to Rawalpindi. The incident evoked the usual statements of condemnation from the prime minister to the federal railways minister and the chief minister of the province. Political leaders, including Bilawal Bhutto, chimed in. Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq announced compensation of Rs one million each to the heirs of the dead and Rs 300,000 each to the injured. Train services were suspended on the line for a few hours while the destroyed track was repaired. The injured were rushed to the nearest hospital at Mach. Meanwhile the Baloch Liberation Front, another nationalist insurgent group, killed a Zikri spiritual leader Syed Mullah Akhtar Mullai in Kech district on October 7 for going back to working against the Front after being captured and then released by it earlier with a warning to cease his activities against the group. Also, on September 20, Zikri places of worship and homes in Panjgur were set on fire by unknown miscreants, evoking criticism from the Pakistan Muslim Zikri Anjuman regarding the security arrangements to safeguard the lives and properties of minorities in Balochistan. It appealed for sectarian harmony. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the authorities and religious parties to stop faith-based violence and bloodletting in Balochistan. It condemned the Panjgur violence and the killing of four Hazara women in Quetta the other day. In another incident, a correspondent of Aaj News was attacked and injured in Pishin on October 6. Taken by themselves, it may appear that these are not that significant in a large province like Balochistan. That, however, would be a mistaken perception. The province has been wracked by a nationalist insurgency, sectarian and religious violence for years. Notwithstanding the security forces’ claims of improvement in the law and order situation, such incidents highlight once more that the surface relative calm in Balochistan masks some serious concerns regarding the province’s lingering crisis. Ritual statements of condemnation of such incidents by political leaders and monetary compensation to the victims do not quite represent an adequate response to the situation. Unfortunately, since the change of command from former nationalist chief minister Dr Abdul Malik to Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, even the halting and ultimately unsuccessful overtures for reconciliation to the insurgents by the former appear to have been given up by his successor. The implication is a switch to a policy of using just force and repression in trying to quell violence. This is not an intelligent strategy. The complex interplay of the nationalist insurgency and sectarian and extremist terrorism needs a nuanced policy of dealing with disparate groups in a wiser manner. The sectarian terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have enjoyed virtually a free hand in Balochistan with the authorities turning a blind eye to their deadly trade. On the other hand, the nationalist insurgency, which arguably calls for continued attempts at a political resolution, seems to have been relegated to being combated by force alone, with its concomitant horrible crop of disappearances and bullet-riddled bodies being dumped all over the province. Such an approach can only deepen bitterness and harden the resolve of the nationalist insurgent groups to continue their armed struggle. As to the implied justification for such tactics underlined by the charge of Indian support to the insurgents, even if true, can only be overcome through reconciling the nationalists by addressing their genuine accumulated grievances within the four corners of the constitution. Insurgencies are seldom overcome by military means alone. The parallel track of political reconciliation must not be abandoned, no matter what the difficulties.

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