Being a Shia is not a crime, but in Pakistan it now carries a death sentence.
The 24 Shias from Kohat and Orakzai agency, who were summarily executed by the militants near the Pak-Iran border, have now been added to the list of thousands already murdered for their beliefs by their fellow Muslims. As the death toll mounts, confidence in the State’s ability to safeguard life and property dwindles further.
Last week, militants attacked the State and the people across Pakistan. It started with the strikes against the militant hideouts in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, which were stated to have killed several dozen militants.
The government also claimed to have killed several Baloch militants in raids in Dera Bugti. A series of attacks on armed forces and civilians followed.
Two colonels died in an ambush near Islamabad. Several other members of armed forces died in smaller attacks. And then came the two major attacks, one on Karachi Airport and the other on Shia pilgrims near Pak-Iran border, which have left over 50 civilians and an equal number of suspected militants dead.
Make no mistake, Pakistan is in the midst of a civil war.
The horrendous death toll keeps climbing, offering irrefutable evidence of a cancerous conflict that is consuming Pakistan from the inside. Still, some state agencies and Pakistan’s elite fail to realise the gravity of the situation.
No one is safe anymore.
The civilians working at the Karachi Airport, who were burnt to death in cold storage, were most likely Sunni Muslims. So were the members of the security forces who died fighting the militants.
The only difference is that while Sunni victims of militancy are collateral damage in the war, Shias, and other religious/sectarian minorities, are being deliberately targeted.
The Baloch insurgency has left Pakistan vulnerable on many fronts. The conflict has resulted in the death of hundreds, if not thousands, of Baloch nationalists and armed forces personnel. The plight of the missing persons from Balochistan further complicates the situation.
While the struggle between the Baloch nationalists and institutions of Pakistan’s government continue, Balochistan continues to slip out of government’s control.
Militants burnt to ground the summer residence of Pakistan’s founder. At the same time, other sectarian militants, who may not have a stake in the Baloch conflict, have setup operations in the remote and settled areas of the lawless province.
The sustained attacks on Quetta’s Shia Hazara community, the cross-border attack that killed 17 Iranian border guards, the recent abduction of six Iranian border guards of which five were later released are all signs of an administrative collapse in Balochistan.
The Iranian border guards have reportedly fired shells into Pakistan after the attack on Shia pilgrims near the Pak-Iran border. Earlier, the Iranian government had warned that if the Pakistani government failed to secure the release of kidnapped Iranian guards, Iranian authorities would execute cross-border raids to recover the guards being held hostage in Pakistan.
The Iranian threat worked. Pakistani government secured the release of five out of six guards. The May 2011 American unilateral raid on Abbottabad to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden has set the wrong precedent for foreign forces to cross into Pakistan to carry out secret operations.
Pakistan needs to act fast to find and enforce an equitable and just resolution for the grievances of the Baloch. The State must focus on delivering justice to those who believe they have been wronged in the past. The signs of discord have been too obvious for some time.
In 1992, I saw a warning sign posted on the remote end of the runway at Quetta airport that read: “hijacking a plane is a crime.” One wonders what necessitated posting of such warning along the runway in Quetta.
It is hard to imagine that those militants who believe murdering Shias is sanctioned by their faith will abandon the practice voluntarily.
The lawlessness resulting from the insurgency has created an environment that has turned parts of the province into breeding grounds for militancy. Only a just and fair resolution of the crisis can deliver long-term peace in Balochistan and beyond.
In the meanwhile, mourners and family members have been busy burying their dead in Kohat and other areas of Orakzai agency. The indifference to their plight can be judged from the fact that no news outlet published even their names. This should change immediately.
Their sacrifice should be honoured with recognition.