Independence Day: Blast, strike mar celebrations in Balochistan

Officials hoist flags; security concerns keep people at home; cellular services in Quetta blocked.

Mohammad Zafar August 14, 2012


From flag hoisting and celebrations to a bomb blast and cellular service shutdown, Independence Day in the country’s largest province was a sobering affair, reflecting the gravity of challenges faced by 65-year-old Pakistan.

Functions to mark the 65th Independence Day were organised by the Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps (FC), provincial government and civil society across Quetta but a shutter-down strike, called for by nationalist parties, was observed across parts of the province.

Meanwhile, the security situation in the provincial capital also remained precarious following a bomb blast at a restaurant late Monday night that injured 12.

Official celebrations

Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, Assembly Speaker Muhammad Aslam Bhootani, High Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Essa and FC chief Maj Gen Ubaidullah Khan Khattak hoisted the national flag on various occasions in the provincial capital.

The main function was held at the Nawab Nauroz Sports Complex where Chief Minister Raisani hoisted the national flag while the FC’s IG and the provincial assembly speaker and other provincial ministers were also present. FC personnel gave a salutation to the participants through helicopters.

Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi conferred medals on six martyred and two serving police officials at a function also held at the Governor House.

At one occasion, Speaker Bhootani said the situation of the country and the provinces implies that Independence Day should not only be limited to celebrations alone.

Unfortunately democracy was not allowed to flourish in the country; thus, despite a lapse of six decades, democracy is not sufficiently strong and many citizens continue to feel insecure, he said.

Deserted streets, strikes

Beyond the official functions, the atmosphere was hardly celebratory.

Markets wore a deserted look as people preferred to stay at home, and avoided public gatherings, due to security concerns following threats from Baloch nationalists.

A shutter-down strike, called by the Baloch National Front (BNF) and its allies, was observed in some parts of the province to denounce independence celebrations in the face of volatile situation in the province. Security forces patrolled the streets throughout the province to avert any untoward incident.

The strike call was also supported by other major nationalist parties, including Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and Baloch National Movement.

Two rockets were fired each in Kohlu and Gwadar districts, but no casualties were reported in either incidents.

Cellular services blocked

The provincial government on Tuesday blocked cellular services in Quetta and surrounding areas on the pretext of security situation.

Security sources said the services were blocked to cut off communication of ‘miscreants and terrorists’. The provincial government had also shut down cellular services on Pakistan Day, March 23, earlier this year on the same pretext.

Restaurant blast

At least 12 people were injured when a bomb hidden under a table exploded near a restaurant where people had gathered to celebrate Independence Day late on Monday, police said.

The explosive device, fitted with a timer, was placed outside the restaurant in Quetta, city police chief Mir Zubair Mehmood revealed.

It was timed to explode late in the night when people had gathered on the eve of Pakistan’s 66th Independence Day, he said.

“At least 12 people were injured, one of them is in a serious condition,” Mehmood told AFP. Hospital sources, however, said that “two of the injured are in critical condition.” (With additional input from AFP)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.