The recent spate of Hazara killings in Quetta seems to have finally exhausted the patience of the federal government in Islamabad; forcing it to sack the effete Raisani administration and promulgate President’s rule in Balochistan.
Mapping the Violence in Balochistan
Violence has been endemic in the Province. At least 200-300 civilians have been killed annually, while security force casualties amount to approximately 90-120. During the last three years, 1200 Punjabi settlers were killed, many of whom were working as teachers, doctors, middle-level bureaucrats and professionals. Extremist Islamic sectarian outfits like the Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) sent out ‘killer squads’ targeting Quetta’s hapless Hazaras, as well as other Shia communities travelling for religious purposes to Iran.
Political Failure of the Provincial and Federal Governments
The fractious vote in the 2008 Provincial Assembly elections saw a coalition government coming to power, with 51 out of 65 Members of Provincial Assemblies (MPAs) becoming Ministers. While all provincial ministers partook of State funds, ostensibly for developmental work, Baloch politicians failed to tackle the deepening alienation in the Province. The now erstwhile Chief Minister, Aslam Raisani, had to keep looking over his shoulders because of his age-old family feud with the Rinds. Even as Chief Minister, he spent more time in Dubai than administrating the Province from Quetta.
Former President Musharraf followed a three-pronged policy, traditionally employed by the Pakistani military establishment, to keep Baloch aspirations in check. While keeping the door open for political dialogue with the religious political parties in the Province, a no-holds-barred military campaign was launched against Baloch youth involved in a nationalist struggle. He projected such elements as terrorists. The Pashtuns, however, were dealt with kid gloves; with the safe havens of the Afghan Taliban in the outskirts of Quetta (Pashtoonabad) and along the Af-Pak border remaining protected.
After the Bugti murder in August 2006, the pattern of Baloch resistance changed. Earlier, it was led mainly by the so-called ‘nationalist Sardars’- the Marris and Mengals. Today, the Baloch sense of grievance is shared by the entire Baloch middle class. Several factions of Baloch insurgents have sprouted- the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), led by Hyairbair Marri (currently in exile, in the UK), the Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) of Brahmadagh Bugti (also in exile, possibly in Switzerland), and, the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) led by Dr Allah Nazar. The latter was arrested by intelligence agencies on 25 March 2005 and remained in detention for over a year. After his release on bail, he went into hiding. Claiming he had been tortured in prison, he pledged thereafter, to ‘purge Balochistan of the Punjabi Army’. The Establishment accused him of being the mastermind behind the killing of moderate Baloch nationalists such as the famous poet, Habib Jalib Baloch, and Maula Baksh Dasti, by unknown gunmen. Dr Allah Nazar denied these allegations; instead blaming intelligence agencies for sending out specially designated ‘vigilante squads’.
Cases of Disappearances and Judicial Review
Law and order authorities in the Province found it difficult to convict suspected terrorists and criminals for wont of proper criminal investigations and a severe lack in evidence required to file the cases’ charge sheets. The Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, was deployed with Police powers. Though notionally reporting to the Chief Minister, they remained answerable to the XII Corps Commander in Quetta. This indirectly contributed to the phenomenon of ‘disappearances’. Preventive arrests of dissenters by police/intelligence agencies became commonplace. Often, when families of dissenters raised a hue and cry either before a sympathetic and receptive media or sought legal remedy in courts, such quests ended in tragedy with the dead body of the missing person being found in mysterious circumstances. While law and order agencies denied involvement and blamed insurgent outfits for the killings, both intellectuals and Baloch diaspora abroad described these as ‘kill and dump operations’.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was forced to take cognizance and hold several suo moto hearings in these ‘disappearance cases’. He castigated the nonchalance of both civilian and military intelligence agencies in the investigation and follow up of these cases.
Akhtar Mengal’s ‘Six Points’ Agenda
Returning from his three years’ self-imposed exile in the UK, Baloch leader Akhtar Mengal recently deposed before the Supreme Court in Islamabad on the situation in Balochistan. He demanded an end to all overt and covert military operations against the Baloch, producing all missing persons, disbanding all proxy death squads of the ISI and MI, freedom of political rights for Baloch nationalists, bringing those responsible for killings and disappearances to book, and rehabilitating the thousands of Baloch displaced by the conflict.
The Army has been quick to deny any culpability on death squads, covert or overt military operations or missing persons in their custody and claimed to “fully support any political process, as long as it is within the Constitution of Pakistan.” Even if a neutral ‘caretaker government’ is formed in the Province before elections, there can be no guarantee that violent actions would be stopped. The Army has to stop being in denial about the extent and depth of Baloch alienation. This does not generate much optimism about the future.