Balochistan is like Marabar Caves. No matter what one says the echo turns it into a monotonous ‘boum’; and while something always happens, no one gets to the bottom of it. Allegations, defence, theories, nothingness and more of the same. Forster was asked what happened at the Marabar Caves. He said he didn’t know. In Balochistan, on all sides of the conflict, everyone seems to know everything and yet, scratch deeper and one realises that fact and fiction intersect with such bewildering frequency that sifting the grain from the chaff becomes an exercise in deep frustration.
Take the example of recent sectarian attacks. I sat thinking about them as the plane began the descent to Quetta Airport. The narrative is rather simple: the peaceful Hazara community is being targeted by a sectarian terrorist organisation. I remembered visiting, last December, what the Hazara call the Martyrs’ Graveyard, close to the Marriabad locality where Koh-e Murdar begins to get diminutive. The expanded wing of the graveyard has more graves of people killed in subsequent sectarian attacks. Finding: the Hazara have suffered and continue to at the hands of Deobandi sectarian terrorists.
But wait. Take a look at another set of ‘facts’. On July 28, as Abdul Karim Mengal, a Deobandi prayer leader at Jamia Albadar comes out of a mosque near Pishin Bus Stop, two motorcyclists kill him. Sources on both sides of the divide and in the police say there’s strong suspicion that the killers were linked to Allama Maqsood Domki, the chief of Balochistan’s Jafaria Alliance, and belonged to Dera Allah Yar, Allama Domki’s birthplace.
Domki himself was attacked in 2009 and his guards killed one of the assailants. In June this year, about 170 people from the Hazara community were invited by the Iranian government to attend the death anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini. “They were feted by the Iranian government. We don’t know what they were told but this year’s Shab-e Barat saw the biggest-ever celebration known to Quetta’s Shia community. They cut a 40 lbs cake, a novelty. It was an aggressive show,” a Hazara told me.
The chairman of Hazara Democratic Party, Abdul Khaliq Hazara, was even more forthcoming as I sat in his baithak sipping kehwa and talking to him. A man with a sense of humour, he criticised both Deobandi terrorists and Hazara and other Shia religious leaders. “They play in the hands of Iran, our religious leaders,” he said. Not one to mince words Khaliq has quite often fallen foul of Shia clerics for objecting to their sectarian sermons and being close to Iran. “Funds come from Iran through their consulate and we see this action-reaction pattern which takes toll of Hazara life.”
Law enforcement officers corroborate the Iranian connection but are more squeamish about the LeJ terrorists. How did Usman Saifullah Kurd, the LeJ terrorist, manage to escape from a high-security ATF prison situated in Quetta cantonment? What about Daud Badini? One source alleges that the night Kurd escaped, some Hazara guards were relieved from duty and the roster changed. It is difficult to corroborate this story especially if the duty roster was indeed changed unless one could compare it with the original roster. It would be naive to think that would still exist. But the question remains: how did Kurd escape?
Hazara clerics seem convinced the LeJ is supported by some elements in the establishment. This is the terrain of allegations which is utilised by all sides in Balochistan. The Deobandi side alleges that former General-President Pervez Musharraf had a policy of placing Shia officers in key positions, another allegation.
The problem with these allegations is that they are based on the group’s own narrative and draw on some elective fact(s) to weave a tapestry that is then mouthed and written about regularly until it is accepted as the gospel truth within that group. The Baloch think they have been deprived while a Pashtun journalist said to the army chief during a function in Quetta on August 1 that the Pashtun think the entire thrust of development is directed towards the Baloch because the latter have picked up the gun – “Should the Pashtun do the same to make their voice heard?”
The army has its own narrative; but equally, within the army, there is much scepticism about the policy of ignoring Baloch sub-nationalist groups. Recently, Commander Southern Command, Lt-Gen Javed Zia, a thinking officer who has worked very hard in the province, was criticised for saying that he didn’t think those who burnt the flag were traitors and should not be engaged. But on the Baloch side ask anyone and they would convincingly tell you that the army thinks as a monolith and its one agenda is to kill the Baloch.
It has become a war of narratives and everyone persists with theirs, deepening the existing fault-lines.