Shoot first, ask questions later. Or sometimes it’s a case of questioning under severe torture first, before the shooting. This has sadly been the state of affairs in Balochistan where killings — some mysterious, some clearly attributable — take place with increasing frequency.
May has been a particularly bloody month and the early days of June indicate that the lethal trend will continue. The targeted killings represent a dangerous cocktail of sectarian, security and nationalistic motives. The victims are primarily political activists and students, as well as the intelligentsia and religious minorities. To these groups has been added the inexplicable killing of foreigners — initially identified as Chechen ‘terrorists’ and later as ‘Russians’ — killings currently under judicial investigation.
News items such as “Five more bodies found in Quetta and Khuzdar” are fairly common. Except the location could be Gwadar, Kech or Panjgur instead. Increasingly, the bodies discovered bear marks of torture and badly mutilated slips of paper are left in their pockets to make at least identification easier. Almost all the dead bodies found are of victims of enforced disappearance, mostly idealistic young political activists fighting for Baloch rights, not necessarily for separatism.
So who exactly are the trigger-happy ones responsible for the tragedy that has struck Balochistan? The usual suspects include the intelligence agencies, associated with the military. Personnel of the Frontier Corps (FC), responsible for law and order in the province, have been clearly identified while picking up people by witnesses and family members of victims. Then there are Baloch separatist groups who openly claim to targeting non-Baloch ‘settlers’, primarily from the Punjab as well as some Pashtuns. The sectarian outfits are not far behind.
In the month of May alone, 13 Hazara Shias died in two incidents of targeted killings. The first incident, killing six Hazaras, occurred in Quetta on May 6, in an area reportedly close to an FC post. The other attack took place on May 17, in Killi Kamalo, on the outskirts of Quetta, killing seven including a minor girl. The ‘banned’ Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed credit for both attacks. Apart from Hazaras, Ahmadis and Hindus have also come under attack. Those who are able to, such as the Baha’is, have left the province.
However, while the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a known militant group, other shadowy groups appear to be surfacing. When an activist of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Naeem Sabir, was shot dead in Khuzdar in March, an organisation calling itself the Baloch Musalla Difa Tanzeem claimed responsibility. Again, following the killing of well-respected Baloch intellectual Professor Saba Dashtiari in Quetta on June 1, somebody claiming to be a spokesman of the Ansarul Islam group claimed responsibility. In this case, the chances of this being a ‘front’ organisation seem to be high as Islamic groups would really have little motive to kill a university professor known for his nationalist views. An idea of the scale of killings may be gauged from the official data provided to the Supreme Court by the government of Balochistan — 181 bodies found and 260 people dead as a result of targeted killings in three years. Coming from official sources, these figures can only be taken to be conservative.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country is not losing any sleep over Balochistan. Filmmaker Sharjil Baloch recently told me about his interviews of people in Lahore that clearly established apathy towards Balochistan. Thanks to the blog Cafe Pyala, I was able to see parts of the video. The answers to Baloch’s questions mostly drew a blank. Not only were Lahoris blissfully unaware of the developments in Balochistan, most could not name even a single city or town of the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2011.