July Issue 2013

By | Cover Story | Published 6 years ago

Hardly a week passed after Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, president of the National Party (NP), was elected chief minister of Balochistan when a series of terrorist attacks severely jolted the tripartite ruling coalition in the province.

On June 15, just before dawn, Baloch militants destroyed the Ziarat residency, a national monument where Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah spent the last few months of his life. The blast killed one policeman. On the same afternoon, a female suicide bomber — the first ever in the history of Balochistan — blew herself up inside a university bus, killing 14 students. When the injured were being shifted to the nearby Bolan Medical Complex, two further suicide attacks took place. One was in the casualty department, while the second bomber engaged hundreds of police and Frontier Corps personnel for over four hours before blowing himself up. Some 15 persons, including the Deputy Commissioner Quetta Abdul Mansoor Kakar, senior doctor Dr Shabir Magsi and four nurses were killed. The people of the provincial capital were still reeling from the shock of these tragic incidents when, on June 30, another suicide bomber riding a bicycle managed to cross the barriers manned by both security forces and young volunteers of the Hazara community and detonated his bomb in a shopping district of Hazara Town, leaving 30 dead and another 51 injured. These attacks were the latest in a long spell of violence. One of the most violent incidents that took place in Quetta’s recent history was on February 16, when an explosive-laden water bowser exploded in the same area, killing over 80 local residents and injuring around 150 others. The then ruling coalition, comprising PPP, JUI-F and PML-Q, headed by Nawab Aslam Raisani, was sacked in the wake of the Hazara community’s strong protest against the two suicide blasts, the earlier one being on Alamdar Road on January 10.

The new man in, Dr Malik Baloch, started facing trouble from the minute he was sworn in as chief minister. On his first day in office, the dead bodies of five missing persons were found in two different areas of Balochistan, sending the leader and his coalition partners a message that there would be no change in the policy of intelligence agencies, who are widely believed to be behind the abduction and disposal of Baloch nationalists. The recovery of dead bodies continued, bringing Dr Baloch and his party under even more pressure from both the local population and political parties to either put a stop to the kill-and-dump policy or take a clear stand against it publicly.

PAKISTAN-TRIBAL-BALOCHISTAN

Young guns: Armed Baloch militants.

The chief minister, who has refrained from making harsh statements on this particular issue, approached Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and requested him to call a meeting with army chief General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani and the heads of all the intelligence agencies involved in Balochistan as well as the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, to put an end to the kill-and-dump policy and ensure the recovery of missing persons. “The prime minister assured me that he would soon arrange such a meeting to resolve the pressing problems of Balochistan,” said the chief minister, on the floor of the assembly.

An optimistic partnership: Chief Minister Dr Baloch with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

An optimistic partnership: Chief Minister Dr Baloch with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Although the NP is not on board vis-a-vis the Baloch militants’ demands for freedom, it is unwilling to take a stand against them because of their shared roots. However, this has not deterred the BLA from gunning down a number of NP leaders. The majority of the youth, particularly in the province’s restive areas, are either involved in militancy or silent supporters of the insurgents.

“We are under tremendous pressure from Baloch forces, particularly militants, on the issue of missing persons and the recovery of their dead bodies. Unless this isue is not resolved, we cannot exert pressure on the insurgents to negotiate or lay down their arms,” said Tahir Bizenjo, secretary general of the ruling National Party on a television talk show. Although the NP is not on board vis-a-vis the Baloch militants’ demands for freedom, it is unwilling to take a stand against them because of their shared roots. Incidentally, this has not deterred the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which is led by Dr Allah Nazar, from gunning down a number of NP leaders, including party stalwarts, Maula Bakhsh Dashti and Dr Nasim Jangian.

Unfortunately, no Baloch political party is in a position to take a stand against militancy as the majority of the youth, particularly in the province’s restive areas, are either involved in militancy or silent supporters of the insurgents. Only those who are aligned with intelligence agencies or those who have set up tribal armies can openly challenge the militants. They include former provincial minister Mir Shahnawaz Marri and his uncle, former senator Mir Mohabat Marri, in Kohlu; Mir Ghulam Qadir Masoori, former MNA Mir Ahmadan Khan Bugti and Jalalan Kalpar in Dera Bugti, Kohi Mengal in Kalat and Haji Shafiq Mengal in Khuzdar.

The agencies kill-and-dump policy started in Balochistan when three Baloch leaders — Ghulam Mohammad, Lala Munir and Sher Mohammad — were picked up from the chamber of advocate Kachkol Ali in Turbat, on April 3, 2009. After four days their decomposed bodies were found in the mountainous area of Murgab. Such activity geared up in June 2010, and according to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) over 570 have been killed in the last three years. However, nationalist parties do not accept the figures provided by the VBMP and claim that the number is much higher than that.

Reign of terror:  Officers and family members mourn a victim of  the Ziarat bombings.

Reign of terror: Officers and family members mourn a victim of the Ziarat bombings.

The attack on the Ziarat residency weakens the position of the NP, which is opposed to the on-going military operation in Balochistan and its expansion to other areas. The chief minister condemned the attack on a national monument in strong words, and allocated Rs 20 million for its restoration. Meerak Baloch, a spokesperson for the BLA, claimed responsibility for the attack and said that if a national monument was attributed to Pakhtoon leaders like Bacha Khan or Abdus Samad Khan Achakzai, his group would definitely have no objection, but the name of Mohammad Ali Jinnah was unacceptable as it was a symbol of slavery.

The writer is a journalist based in Quetta and is President of Quetta Press Club (QPC).