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Balochistan sizzles, so does Karachi

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, August 05, 2011

The death toll – political and social murders / assassinations - in Karachi surged to 318 for the month of July, among them almost 100 only in and around the Orangi town area. The first day of August alone saw at least 23 people going down and the Surjani Town continues to be a flash-point in the latest cycle of violence. The cycle of violence 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 paralyzed parts of Karachi and pushed them to the brink of civil war. Solution to the Karachi violence largely rests with the parties involved. 

What, however, must really be alarming is the explosive course of events in the neighboring Baluchistan, where the last week of July saw at least 30 people going down to the rain of bullets. 

The surge in violence in Baluchistan was essentially marked by two different dimensions i.e. political and sectarian. A critical look at the pattern of violence suggests that Baluchistan currently faces a two-pronged onslaught; on the one hand, the al Qaeda-linked Lashkare Jhangvi and most probably some break-away 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. 

Let us take a cursory look at what happened in the last week of July alone; on July 28th, a sunni cleric of Jamia Albadar Mosque, Abdul Karim Mengal, was shot dead in what appeared to be a target killing in the Pishin area of Quetta. Owing to this, the banned anti- Shia organization Lashkar-e- Jhangwi (LeJ) came out to take revenge, killed at least seven Hazara shias on July 29 on the Saryab Road, followed by another 11 deaths next day , on the Spini road. These shia pilgrims were ambushed at the bus terminal meant for the transport between Quetta and Taftan. 

Earlier on July 28, the Nephew of Balochistan CM, Akmal Raisani, was also killed in a hand-grenade attack when he was visiting a football stadium in Mastung District (located in the north west of Balochistan) with his father Nawabzada Siraj Raisani. The real target, it seems, was Nawabzada Raisani. Also a tribal leader Abdul Razzaq and his brother Dur Mohammad were shot dead along with their three body guards on July 31 in Turbat (located in Southern Balochistan). 

As a whole, the circumstances in Baluchistan remained extremely explosive, prompting even the Human Rights Watch to intervene and accuse 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. 

In addition to the political and sectarian killings, Baluchistan 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 organized 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. 

But one also wonders as to who will speak to whom ? the army, which is the predominant organized force in the province, or the balochi politicians, most of whom are tainted with allegations of their patronage of organised crime? 

Extremely negative public perceptions of the military and the political elite currently drive the discussion on a possible way out of the cycle of violence in Balochistan. The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has already drawn a line by saying on August One that the political government and not the army should lead the talks with “angry Baloch nationalists.” Inaugurating the Institute of Medical Sciences in Quetta, Kayani also denied any army link whatsoever with “mutilated bodies” saying it is the responsibility of the provincial government to maintain law and order

Kayani’s statement sounds like easier said than done because the Baluchistan crisis is not the making of the current government; most of the speakers – politicians, academics, intellectuals and civil society members ) at a number of consultations that the Centre for Research and Security Studies has conducted at Quetta and Islamabad ( with the help of the Heinrich Boell Foundation and the ACTIONAID) since November last year have highlighted a history of denial of political and economic rights in the province. 

The dominant majority of Balochis hold the army and the political elite of Islamabad responsible for their present-day crisis. They have also been, for instance, demanding fresh elections to allow the Baloch nationalist forces (which had boycotted the Feb 2008 elections) also become stake-holders in the system. But these demands apparently have fallen on deaf ears. That is why the impact of the Aghaz e Huqooqe Balochistan package also remains questionable. A fresh election, enhanced role of the civilians in dealing with political conflicts and an accelerated implementation of the Rights' package could perhaps help in stemming Balochistan's slide into anarchy.

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

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk