Will the Talibanic journalists and politicians ever speak about it?

On the run

Target killing in Balochistan is rising, with more and more non-Baloch officials and Shia Hazaras seeking safe shelter elsewhere in the country

By Adnan Adil

Following the killing of three Baloch leaders — Munir Baloch, Ghulam Mohammad and Sher Mohammad — in Turbat last April, target killings in Balochistan have risen sharply. The main victims are: non-Baloch officials connected to the field of education and Shia-Hazaras of Quetta.

In October, all major incidents of target killings involved teachers or education officials. On Oct 31, 2009, Secretary Balochistan Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education was seriously injured when unknown armed men shot at him in Quetta’s Satellite Town. He was on his way from his home to the office. He suffered multiple injuries on his head and other parts of the body. A day earlier, two employees of Cadet College Mastong, Amjad and Munawwer, Punjabi settlers in Balochistan, were shot dead. On Oct 25, the Provincial Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan was shot dead in Quetta near his home. On Aug 7, another Provincial Minister Rustam Jamali was killed in Karachi. Last year, on Oct 19, the house of Province’s Information Minister Younus Mullazai was attacked with a hand grenade. The minister was out of town thus escaped the murder attempt.

Earlier, according to reports, the principal of Quetta’s Commerce College, the vice-principal of Balochistan Residential College in Khuzdar, the principal of Pilot High School in Mastung, the principal of Sariab Mills High School, a professor of Government Degree College and newly-appointed vice-chancellor of Balochistan University in Quetta, Safdar Kiyani, have been victims of target killing in the province.

Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and other militant Baloch organisations have taken the responsibility of killing at least 238 citizens in Quetta including professors, teachers, surgeons and lawyers. The day the provincial minister, Shafiq Khan, was shot dead, Shehak Baloch, who identified himself as a member of Baloch Liberation United Front, (BLUF) telephoned a news wire agency in Quetta, claiming the responsibility of the murder. Shehak was reported to have told the news agency that Khan was killed to avenge the murder of three Baloch leaders in Turbat. He also said the slain minister was anti-Baloch.

Most professors in Balochistan University are from Punjab or Karachi, and have received letters threatening them to leave Balochistan. The letters reads: “We are from Balochistan Liberation Army. You should leave this province.” Due to fear, 20 university’s teachers have got themselves transferred to Sindh or Punjab; 120 university teachers have requested for the transfer out of Balochistan; 10 professors take classes with gun men guarding them. Most of the teachers have shifted their families to Punjab and other parts of the country.

In addition to a sizeable population of Hazara tribe in the Quetta city, there are a large numbers of settlers from Punjab, Sindh and Afghanistan who identify themselves with Balochistan. Many families migrated to and settled in Quetta post-1935 earthquake.

Dr Safdar Kiyani was the most senior professor in the Balochistan University and was shot dead the day he was appointed the VC. His two sons have migrated from Quetta. No Baloch political party or leader condemned his killing and none of them attended his funeral prayer. No Pushtoon or Punjabi teacher wants to conduct examinations in Baloch areas. The government has opened new campuses of the University in Turbat and Loralai so that the teachers can continue their work.

The business community is also feeling the heat of violence. Muhammad Nadeem Khan, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Quetta says, “the law and order situation is so bad in Quetta that businesses close early evening. “
Businessmen say all members of the business community pay extortion money (bhatta) to political groups. A large number of businessmen are migrating from the city for safety reasons.

The Hazara community maintains that it is being forced to leave Quetta — by selling their businesses and property at throw-away prices. They say pamphlets that threaten them to leave and sell their houses are being distributed. Members of the Hazara community are abducted often and the ransom money varies between one to four million rupees.

Nearly 22,000 government employees have applied for the transfer out of the province. Due to fear, a large number of educational institutions are closed all over the province and only one boys’ college is open in the Quetta city. Ratan Chand of the Teachers’ Association says for the last couple of years two to three cases of abduction for ransom take place in Quetta every month.

Professor Nawaz Soomro, an office-bearer of the Teachers’ Association, says two teachers — one belonging of the Government Degreee College Saryab Road, Quetta and the other to Government Commerce College Road, Quetta — were killed but their alleged murderers were not arrested. He said no public official condemned their death.

Hazara community representatives say not one government official has condoled the target killing of Hazara people and no compensation money is offered to victims’ families. Dawood Agha, the Senior Vice-President of Balochistan Shia Party, has lost six members of his family including his younger brother in sectarian violence. He says, since 2003 more than 260 Hazaras have been murdered and more than 1000 have suffered injuries in the attacks.

The community leaders are highly suspect of the role of security agencies. Dawood Agha alleges that security agencies and the government are protecting the perpetrators of the crime. As an example, he cites, the escape of two convicted sectarian criminals — Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafeeq Rind — from the well-guarded jail of Anti-Terrorist Force (ATF) in Quetta. They were associated with the anti-Shia organisation, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. Shafeeq Rind was arrested five months later but Usman is still missing.

“Another accused terrorist, Daud Badini, is in jail but is said to be enjoying the facilities of a five-star hotel,” says Agha.

A number of Shia lawyers have been shot dead, including the recent murder of Advocate Wilyata Hussain in Quetta.

The victims of target killings also include five and six year old children. Aghai Akbar Hussain Zahedi, a leader of the Shia Ulema Council, says: “Terrorists have become so daring that they openly swear in the courts that after being released from jail they will target more Shias. The accused are arrested in the morning and released in the afternoon.”

Haji Abdul Qayyum, Chairman of Hazara Qaumi Jirga, say that the accused dare the judges to convict them.

A banned sectarian organisation, Sipah-i-Sahaba, is said to have become active with the new name of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat in Balochistan. In Aug 2009, a Shia religious leader, Allama Maqsood Ali Donki, was killed in a grenade attack by two assailants. The police killed two assailants on the spot. Next day, Jamaat Ahle Sunnat brought out a protest demonstration against the killing of the assailants.

The distrust of the government runs deep and its inaction makes its role suspicious. Two tribunals were set up on the killing incidents of 2004 and 2008, but their findings have not been made public to date. The conspiracy theories abound involving India, the US and local security agencies responsible for spreading violence. Many Shia leaders in Quetta allege that the sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and its sister organisation, Jundullah, comprise of Sunni Baloch militants who are also active in Iran. In their conspiracy theory, Jundullah enjoys the patronage of local security agencies and the CIA, as it has been created to destabilise the neighbouring Iran.

On the other hand, the Pakistan government has officially blamed India for fomenting violence in Balochistan and funding militant Baloch organisations.
For ordinary citizens in Balochistan, affected with the spate of violence since the last six years, with little protection available from the state, survival seems to be the main worry. As a result, an exodus of non-Baloch from the province continues — for more than 50,000 people have so far left their homes.

The writer was member of the fact-finding mission of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that visited Balochistan between Oct 3 and 10, 2009.