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Analysis: Fiddling while Balochistan, Karachi sizzle

Government and army reactions to the explosive situations in Karachi  and Balochistan continue to reflect a state of denial which clearly stems from political expedience.

By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, August 05, 2011

The two strategic locations of the country are aflame but the ruling elite is fiddling and busy in pulling one another down. The solution for Karachi that most of politicians suggest is a grand operation, including increased intelligence surveillance of the city. Does this mean the security apparatus is not performing its job in a city that is called the economic life-line of the country? Well if true, then this security establishment hardly deserves the financial resource it is gobbling up. By implication, should we then blame the over 340 casualties (in July alone) also on the entire security establishment? Certainly not. A city of over 15 million – a sea of people – in an extremely congested, and a complicated environment largely defined by a nexus between politics and organized crime – is simply beyond the control of a few thousand police and intelligence operatives put together (the entire province boasts less than 40,000 police force – one third of which is practically serving the VIPs) .

The cycle of violence in Karachi is indeed alarming but certainly not surprising. The MQM, the PPP and the ANP remain at loggerheads for their political ends, and thus constitute the core of the problem. If they want, they can carve a way out of this gory power-play that has paralysed parts of Karachi and pushed them to the brink of civil war. Solution to the Karachi violence largely rests with the parties involved.

Military operations amount to cosmetics i.e. treating the symptoms and not addressing the root causes. The real problem lies in turf wars for political authority and geographical space.

While the solution to Karachi largely rests with major political parties, the Balochistan crisis sizzles because of a long history of economic injustices and denial of socio-political rights.

The recent surge in violence in Balochistan – over 800 lives lost since January 2010 – and over 30 killed in the last three days of July alone – is the direct consequence of a way of governance that is defined by the military and the paramilitary forces. What we see in Balochistan today is marked by two different dimensions i.e. political and sectarian. A critical look at the pattern of violence suggests that Balochistan currently faces a two-pronged onslaught; on the one hand, the al Qaeda-linked Lashkare Jhangvi and most probably some breakaway factions of the Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan, continue to empty their guns on the minority Shia Hazara community of the province.  On the other hand, the relentless terror campaign by the Balochi nationalists also continues unabated, taking its toll on innocent non-combatants.

As a whole, the circumstances in Balochistan remained extremely explosive, prompting even the Human Rights Watch to intervene and blame the law enforcement agencies responsible for killings and abductions. Intelligence and security agencies are alleged to be behind the growing disappearances in the region, where a number of strikes have taken place in recent months to protest the kidnappings. Quetta and several other cities were shuttered down even on Monday to protest the gruesome murders of the Hazaras.

Prominent persons – politicians, academics, bureaucrats – are usually killed without any clear indication of who did it. Balochi nationalists blame such murders on state security institutions, while the government agencies deny this, and say this is part of an intimidation campaign by Balochi separatist groups.

Human rights groups and Baloch political parties claimed as early as March that 13,000 people are missing in the province, while the provincial government acknowledged fewer than 200 people remained unaccounted for.

Inspector General of Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan, Major General Obaidullah Khan recently reacted sharply to the HRW report, saying this was an attempt to malign the law enforcement agencies by not projecting their good deeds. But the reality is that lack of transparency and highhandedness of the military does raise many questions in this regard, and keeps piquing Balochis nationalists.

In addition to the political and sectarian killings, Balochistan also remains in the grip of a wave of crime – abductions for ransom, car-jacking, attacks on cargo trucks, particularly on the US-NATO cargo destined for Afghanistan – which is largely the work of organised criminal groups, many of whom enjoy political patronage as well. As a result, this collusion of politics- bureaucracy and crime has also aggravated a politically volatile situation, which has triggered calls for talks and reconciliation with Balochi nationalists.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk