Why Trouble Rules Balochistan

malik-siraj-akbar1By Malik Siraj Akbar

Weeks after the imposition of governor’s rule, life in Balochistan is back to normal: fresh military operations against the Baloch nationalists, more killings of Shia Hazaras, renewed attacks on security personnel and deadly assaults on Punjabi settlers. Chaos and lawlessness are the hallmarks of routine life in Balochistan, and governor rule has not reshaped that. The critical question now is what the future holds for Balochistan if Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi fails to achieve the primary goals set in the wake of the state of emergency.

Governor’s rule was imposed in Balochistan following the horrific bombings in Quetta that killed more than 100 people earlier this month. After its imposition, two policemen belonging to the Hazara community were gunned down in Quetta on January 29th. Governor’s rule has not put an end to targeted killing.

And, during these 60-days of governor’s rule, Magsi has been confronted with the monumental challenges of restoring peace, initiating dialogue with enraged Baloch nationalists, holding politicians accountable for the corruption they carried out during the previous government and developing a conducive atmosphere for the upcoming general elections. In other words, he is tasked with creating a climate that motivates Baloch nationalist political parties to participate in the polls in order to rejoin mainstream politics.

The reaction of political parties to governor’s rule has been weak. The provincial leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has welcomed President Zardari’s decision to oust Chief Minister Nawab Raisani’s government because they describe it as too corrupt and incompetent. Only the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-Faal) and the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Awami), both coalition partners of the PPP in the previous government, have vehemently condemned the federal government for removing the Balochistan government. Relatively small protest rallies held by the two parties in Quetta and constant walkouts staged in the senate of Pakistan have failed to compel President Zardari to lift governor rule in the province.

As the demand for the restoration of the Raisani government fails to gain momentum, the actual challenge remains how to contain the cycle of unabated violence. Worst still, the failure of the government to stop targeted killings despite entrusting the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) with policing powers also casts a shadow over the future of the general elections.

For instance, on January 26, suspected Baloch armed rebels attacked a camp of a pro-government peace force killing three people and kidnapping four others in the gas-rich Dera Bugti district. Two days later, on January 28th, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) an underground separatist group, killed two personnel of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in Pasni Town Gwadar District. On the same day, armed men killed at least three Punjabi settlers in Pasni. With Gwadar as one of its three districts—others being Turbat and Panjgur—the non-tribal Mekran region has emerged as the new hub of the Baloch insurgency.

The Baloch insurgents say they accelerated their operations because the government has initiated military operations in several Baloch districts soon after the imposition of governor’s rule in the province.

The Hazara policemen were killed by a relatively unknown Sunni militant organization called the Jaish-ul-Islam (JuI). While the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is more prominently known as the prime perpetrator of attacks on the Shias in Balochistan, the JuI reflects the expansion of the network of anti-Shia organizations in Balochistan. The JuI shares the extremist vision of the LeJ. It came under the spotlight recently when it claimed responsibility for the killing of at least 20 Shia pilgrims in coordinated bombings on passenger buses in Mastung district last December.

Neither Islamabad nor Quetta has an official policy toward the sectarian groups. The government has not arrested and convicted any top sectarian activists in the recent times that are responsible for the mass murder of the Shias. The JUI and other Sunni clerics can play a mediating role if the government seeks their assistance to reach out to sectarian groups. The only group that has received an offer to negotiate with the government is the Baloch nationalists. In less than a month, the Balochistan government has twice offered Baloch insurgents a surrender deal. In return, the government has pledged to pay PKR 10,000 to each insurgent and also pledged to provide them jobs based on their qualifications. As in the past, the Baloch rebels have rejected the government offer and ridiculed it instead.

“We will pay three times more salary to Governor Magsi if he quits his job and joins the Baloch freedom movement,” offered a spokesman for the armed Baloch nationalists. The deadlock may deepen as Baloch groups have also warned that they will disrupt the upcoming general elections. They have appealed to Baloch voters to boycott the elections because, according to them, the polls will undermine the separatist movement.

Governor’s rule has multiplied Balochistan’s troubles instead of fixing them. The supporters of parliamentary politics are still in a state of disbelief about how little they can do to prevent the federal authorities from usurping the provincial mandate. The Baloch nationalists oppose Islamabad’s carrot-and-stick policy while the sectarian groups remain the only beneficiary of the flawed and selective government approach. The Sunni extremist groups continue to thrive under what appears to be our “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy. (Courtesy: Tanqeed)

Republished in The Baloch Hal on February 3, 2013