The impunity with which the anti-Shia death squads, invariably of a virulently mutated Deobandi denomination, operate in Balochistan smacks not of state failure but the complicity of elements within the state. It is simply not possible for any terrorist group to plan, train, rehearse and execute these barbaric attacks and then disappear into thin air after the assault without the Pakistan’s ubiquitous intelligence apparatus not knowing. Balochistan has been under the military’s heel since 2004 when the former dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, launched a military operation that quickly turned into a dirty war against the Baloch separatists. The whole province is teeming with uniformed men and the spooks and their touts. Quetta, as I have noted before, is a garrison city with a relatively simple grid and is home to the Pakistan army’s XII Corps, the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI’s) regional headquarters, the Balochistan Frontier Corps, a major army selection and recruitment centre, the army’s prestigious Command and Staff College and the Pakistan air force base, Samungli.
Add to this the presence of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura, which the Pakistani establishment guards to the extent that Balochistan and especially Quetta are a no-go area for foreign, especially US, diplomats and officials. Foreign journalists are either not allowed into Balochistan lest they snoop around the Quetta Shura or, when permitted, they are persistently followed and hounded by intelligence operatives and, in worst cases, beaten up like the New York Times correspondent and author Carlotta Gall was.
Still, a few years ago, LeJ operatives Usman Saifullah Kurd and Dawood Badini, who had admitted killing and masterminding the killings of the Shia Hazaras and Shafiq Rind of the anti-nationalist Baloch Mussalah Difaee Tanzeem (BMDT) were sprung from prison through what appeared to be an inside job.The overlap between the anti-Shia Hazara and anti-Baloch nationalist groups is more than coincidental. The security establishment continues to play a deadly game in Balochistan to counter the Baloch separatists. The key component of this game plan apparently is deploying the jihadist proxies to neutralise the Baloch militants as well as to pry away the initiative from the latter’s secular leadership. It is simply a replay of the Pakistani state’s policy to counter and contain the real and imagined Pashtun nationalist movement for (an independent) Pashtunistan. The immunity and impunity that anti-Shia jihadists enjoy is a quid pro quo for their anti-Baloch nationalist ‘services’.
The evolving, merging and/or overlapping groups such as the Jundullah successor Jaish-al-Adl (JA), the LeJ and the BMDT, share extreme Deobandism as their creed in which the Shia and, for that matter, anyone that they declare heretics are liable to be murdered. The obscure group Lashkar-e-Khurasan (LeK), which is essentially a conglomerate of the LeJ and JuL, slaughtered seven Baloch Zikris after attacking their zikrkhana (worship place) on August 28, 2014 in Awaran.
The unmistakable sign of the deep state’s complicity came when the state tried to manipulate the funeral of the revered Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Khair Bux Marri this past June. The deep state’s operatives colluded with a disgruntled son of the late Nawab, Jangez Marri, and imposed Ramzan Mengal, the Balochistan chief of the LeJ’s political face, the Ahle-Sunnat-wal-Jamat (ASWJ), to lead the great nationalist leader’s funeral prayers. The Baloch nationalist cadres, especially their ladies, who by that time had realised what was going on, had to wrestle away Nawab Marri’s coffin and, ultimately, wrapped it in their national flag and buried him. Both Nawab Marri’s family, including his other son, Nawabzada Mehran Marri, and the Balochistan Students Organisation-Azaad, had in written statements squarely blamed state operatives for trying to hijack the nationalist leader’s funeral and imposing sectarian bigots on the Baloch.
The Pakistani security establishment’s myopia and its recklessness are simply unbelievable. It just had its fingers burned trying to stoke the jihadist pyres in Afghanistan when the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) turned on it. After the Zarb-e-Azb operation has gotten underway in North Waziristan, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has repeated ad nauseum that the armed forces are dismantling the colossal terrorist infrastructure there. Just months ago they were unwilling to concede that there ever was any problem in North Waziristan let alone the existence of such a humongous network and logistical bases. There is absolutely no doubt that the security establishment’s current policy in Balochistan will also come back to bite it just as its misadventure in Afghanistan has done. Unfortunately, it is the common people and foot soldiers that end up bearing the brunt of the disastrous footsie that the Pakistani establishment keeps playing with the jihadists who are in it for doctrinal reasons above all.
The Hazaras in Quetta are killed because of their Shia faith; their facial features and forced ghettoisation do make it easy to pick them out. It is not an issue of social integration or ethno-chauvinism. The jihadists, for example, have no problem coopting different looking and alien sounding Chechens and Uzbeks. The systematic, relentless targeted killings of the socially well-integrated Shia communities from Peshawar to Karachi, indicates that the jihadist agenda is a sectarian purge. Shakespeare was spot on when he wrote:
“Murder most foul, as in the best it is.
But this most foul, strange and unnatural.”
All murders are horrible but the murders in Balochistan, whether of the Shia Hazara, Baloch Zikris or the Baloch separatists, are especially heinous, grotesque and unnatural as elements of the state stand by idly or, worse, protect and egg on the killers. The civilian law enforcement agencies can only do so much with political weaklings at the helm in the province and the Centre. The jihadist terrorism against the Shia, Baloch and the minorities will continue unabated unless the security establishment rethinks its catastrophic policy, which it most likely will not.