In Balochistan Taliban supporters, both covertly and overtly, help extremism against the secular parties

The hinge
Monday, January 12, 2009
Once again eyes turn towards Balochistan – the largest, least populated, poorest and, by a terrible irony, most resource-rich province of the federation. Concerns are growing that the process of Talibanisation which has created a splinter-state in NWFP are now well advanced there. Balochistan has never ‘settled’ into the corporate identity of Pakistan and the blood of Baloch nationalism runs strong in the provincial veins; and a good deal of it has run on the ground as well over the decades. We now hear from Sanaullah Baloch of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) that supporters (an interesting word to use in this context) of the Taliban had gained control of lands worth two billion rupees to the east and west of Quetta, and that the Taliban are consolidating their grip. A glance at the map tells us that the long border with Afghanistan and the proximity to the unsettled areas of NWFP makes this something that may be accomplished with relative ease – especially if you have a helping hand from the top. It is claimed that Taliban supporters enjoy the support of the government and the sensitive agencies as they see the Taliban as a potent counterweight to the Baloch nationalists.

Doubtless Sanaullah Baloch is referring to the JUI-F when he speaks of Taliban supporters. The JUI-F has poached the Pashtun vote from the secular Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party just as it did when it pushed aside the secular ANP in NWFP. We note how difficult it is for the ANP – now in power in NWFP – to get support from the centre in the battle to contain and control extremism. In Balochistan Taliban supporters, both covertly and overtly, help extremism against the secular parties which are, inconveniently, nationalist as well as secular. The rolling tide of Talibanisation in Balochistan, of which the JUIF are the storm-troopers, will have no truck with the desire for insurgency and separation so beloved of the Baloch nationalists. The JUIF agenda is broader and deeper than even that, and their party machine has deftly manoeuvred it into the federal coalition alongside the PPP, whilst at the same time giving support to the Taliban and stoutly resisting all calls for military action against extremism in Balochistan. If nothing else this displays a sophisticated and multi-faceted thinking by the Taliban groups (there are many, and they do not all hold hands – yet) who are now advancing in a disciplined and coordinated manner down our western flanks. South Punjab is currently undergoing a process of radicalization as well and it is not difficult to trace the thread through the labyrinth back to the tribal agencies.

Balochistan has become a part of the hinge on which the history of Pakistan now turns. Challenging the writ of the Taliban is tricky as it is both difficult and dangerous to confront a grouping that says it is working within the religious constitution of the state – the constitution which has the Sharia at its very heart. Few of us would wish to risk the wrath of the extremists by challenging them as they will always counter with the cry of ‘Are you not a Muslim?’ The components of the hinge are now almost all in place – but which way will it turn and who is doing the pushing? (The News)