They were going home to celebrate Eid with their families. Little did they know that their lives would be snuffed out by cold-blooded murderers. Thirteen people – mostly day-labourers from Punjab – were pulled out of passenger buses and shot at pointblank range in an ethnically-motivated attack in Bolan district on Tuesday.
The Baloch Liberation Army, one of several proscribed groups responsible for most separatist and ethnic violence in Balochistan, claimed credit for the grisly killings in the Machh area of Bolan, some 80 kilometres away from Quetta.
The assault was carried out by 150-200 insurgents, who were dressed in the uniforms of paramilitary Frontier Corps and Balochistan Levies.
“The militants blocked the road at two places. First, they took away five paramilitary troops from an FC patrol vehicle, trussed them up and snatched their walkie-talkies and weapons,” Home Secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told AFP.
Then they stopped two Punjab-bound passenger buses and took away 13 labourers. Security personnel chased them, but the militants fired a rocket that killed one security officer, Durrani said. “Then they lined up the labourers in the mountains and killed 13,” added Durrani. They were heading home to Punjab to celebrate Eidul Fitr with their families.
The top local government administrator, however, gave a different account. “The militants first attacked and destroyed an oil tanker of Pakistan Air Force. FC troops mounted a counter-attack and in the ensuing firefight one paramilitary soldier died and two sustained injuries,” Bolan Deputy Commissioner Abdul Waheed Shah told The Express Tribune by phone.
He pointed out that the militants also kidnapped seven Balochistan Levies personnel from the same area, who were later released.
“The militants stopped five to six passenger coaches at two fake checkpoints on the main highway and snatched 13 passengers from Punjab after checking their national identity cards,” Shah said. “The militants took them to the nearby mountains and shot them dead.”
Two of the slain passengers belonged to the security agencies: one was from Pakistan Army and the other from Kalat Scouts. The militants spared two Seraiki-speaking passengers.
Shah said that the security forces have cordoned off the area and have mounted a search operation. “We are going to launch an air strike on militant hideouts in the mountainous areas of Bolan,” he added.
Machh Assistant Commissioner Khasif Muhamamd Shai confirmed the incident and said the bullet-riddled bodies had been recovered.
The bodies were shifted to Quetta’s Civil Hospital in the afternoon. All the victims were shot in the head. They were identified as Ahmed Ali, Shakeel Ahmed, Muhammad Bakhsh, Muhammad Asif, Muhamamd Aslam, Saqib Ali, Hawaldar Arshad, Shahid, Shakeel Ahmed, Abdul Malik, Muhamamd Ashraf, Shaukat Ali, Lans Naik Safeer Ahmed. All of them hailed from different regions of Punjab.
Muhammad Yousaf, who lost a relative in the attack, said that most of the men were day-labourers who had gone over to Iran in search of work. “I was also scheduled to travel to Alipur in Punjab – but now this tragedy happened,” Yousaf told The Express Tribune at the Civil Hospital’s mortuary.
Another man who lost his brother and a nephew told journalists that they belonged to the impoverished Rahim Yar Khan district of Punjab and worked at an optician’s shop here. “Four of my relatives were travelling to Rahim Yar Khan. The militants killed my brother and nephew and spared the two others,” he added.
BLA spokesman Meerak Baloch claimed responsibility for the killings. “These 13 people were either employees of the army or of other security institutions,” he told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The spokesman said the insurgents kidnapped 25 people, but later let seven passengers and five security personnel go. “An FC patrol party tried to follow us, so we killed two of them while another two were injured,” he added.
Governor Muhammad Khan Achakzai and Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch condemned the incident and ordered the arrest of the killers.
Balochistan, the most deprived province of the country, is a flashpoint for a separatist insurgency and sectarian violence since 2004. The insurgency, however, became deadlier following the killing of Jamhoori Watan Party leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation in 2006.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2013.
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