Tuesday, 22 Jun, 2010
Balochistan is a province on edge. Its denizens don’t know where the next attack will occur or who will be the target. On Saturday, an attack on an army convoy killed one soldier and injured several others; the Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility. On the same day, two members of the Hazara community were killed on Art School Road in the heart of Quetta city. Suspicion has fallen on Jundallah, the group which claims to be fighting for the rights of the Baloch in Pakistan and Iran but that also has a sectarian hue. With such disparate sources of violence in Balochistan, easy solutions will not be had. Start with the Baloch nationalist problem. To be sure, there are extremists hiding in the hills of Balochistan and living outside Pakistan who are orchestrating the violence and whose central demand, independence, will not be met by the Pakistani state. But focusing on the most extreme demand of the radical fringe can be misleading.
There are many demands of the Baloch that are fair and reasonable and can be met in order to lure the extremists to the negotiating table. For example, the rehabilitation of IDPs from Dera Bugti and Kohlu who are spread out across the province in districts like Jafarabad and Nasirabad and beyond is something that can be expedited. Similarly, the long-standing problem of ‘missing persons’ is being exacerbated by fresh disappearances — a practice the security agencies may ‘justify’ considering the violence directed at them, but one which is thoroughly counterproductive. Given the tit-for-tat tactics of the state and militants, so pervasive is the fear among the people of Balochistan that doctors are refusing to serve in remote areas and many teachers are demanding to be relocated to institutions in Pakhtun-dominated areas because they feel unsafe living and working among the Baloch population.
If the Baloch problem were not bad enough, the creeping problem of sectarian killings in the province is adding to the sense of fear and insecurity. Strangely, little is known, at least publicly, about the problem. Is Jundallah of the Abdolmalek Rigi fame responsible? Is it Laskhar-i-Jhangvi? Is it the cross-pollination between the various militant groups over the years in the terrain of Balochistan that is responsible? It could be all of the above. The point is that nobody is safe in Balochistan anymore. The settler population as well as the non-Baloch are targets of groups like the BLA and Balochistan Republican Army. The Hazaras are targets of sectarian killers. The Baloch feel under siege. Worse yet, it is difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel.