Editorial: Sisters in Coffins; Brothers in Blood; The Lashkar At Large
In one of the ugliest terrorist attacks in Balochistan’s history, Sunni militant group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, killed at least 24 people, mostly female university students in coordinated attacks in the provincial capital Quetta on Saturday. In the first assault, a bus carrying the students of the women-only Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University was blown up which was subsequently followed by a second explosion at the Bolan Medical College (B.M.C.) where doctors and paramedics were busy in rescue and relief operation. The attackers even did not spare the hospital management as they besieged the B.M.C., opened indiscriminate fire for several hours, killing at least four nurses and the Deputy Commissioner of Quetta District.
At the time of writing this editorial, it is still too early to fully measure the magnitude of human and material loss caused by Saturday’s attack. The unprecedented attack on female students immediately became a global headline while the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called upon Islamabad to do all possible to bring the perpetrators to justice. Mr. Ki-moon has rightly feared that such attacks could further disrupt and discourage women’s education in Pakistan’s least educated province of Balochistan.
The LeJ, which is a terrorist organization based in Pakistan’s South Punjab, says it carried out the assault in order to avenge the killing of six of its members by the security forces on June 9 in Quetta. The government should have taken all precautionary measures as Abu Bakar Siddiq, a spokesman for the underground LeJ, implicitly threatened that his organization would “teach the government [officials] such a lesson that their coming generations would not forget.”
The spokesman had also said, “our [newspaper] statements should not taken as mere warnings. We practically do whatever we threaten to do.” Unfortunately, there was a great communication gap between the LeJ, the government and the general public. The Balochistan High Court is strictly against the publication of any news material from the LeJ because the court believes the publication of LeJ statements amounts to glorifying violence, providing the terrorists a platform to propagate their mission and also scare the public. Hence, the Balochistan government has registered cases under the Terrorism Act against a number of Quetta-based Urdu newspapers that published the LeJ statements on the recommendation of the B.H.C. So, such official restrictions and pressure on the media have in fact kept the government and the masses in alarming oblivion about the policies and intentions of terrorist groups.
What the government should have read from LeJ’s last policy statement was the description of several “women who were ready to sacrifice their lives in order to revive the memories of Hazrat Samia, the first female martyr of Islam.” It means the LeJ has already started recruiting women to carry out attacks on girls who attend school and work at different offices. Based on the LeJ’s own claims and warnings, it is not absolutely irrelevant to presume that some indoctrinated female students within the university could have collaborated in fixing the bomb in the bus. What is laudable from the government’s side is the candid admission by Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan that no “foreign hand” was involved in the attack. He said those who carried out this barbaric act of terror seemed to be homegrown terrorists and the government was investigating the matter. Unlike his controversial predecessor, Rehman Malik, the new interior minister is at least not shying away from acknowledging that fact that sectarian violence is a domestic product of the Pakistani state’s flawed policies and no other foreign country can be blamed for this.
So, a critical question for investigators of Saturday’s attacks is to find out how much support the LeJ enjoys among the women folk and how serious the claim is that many women are ‘ready to sacrifice themselves’ for the glory of Islam. If LeJ actually has female recruits then we should, unfortunately, expect more Saturday-like tragedies at least expected places, including commercial centers where women go shopping.
Repeated recovery of dead bodies of Baloch political activists, the destruction of the Quaid-e-Azam Residency in Ziarat and Saturday’s coordinated attacks have absolutely shaken the confidence of Balochistan’s new coalition government. There are already signs of discontent among the coalition partners over the dramatic surge in violence. They have started blaming each other for not being able to properly manage the situation in the province. For instance, federal minister for information Pervaiz Rasheed of the Pakistan Muslim League (P.M.L-Nawaz) reminded that his party had given “nationalists a chance to lessen the anger of the youth. But even after this they continue this politics of gun.”
It is absurd to believe that Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch has got magical powers to end sectarian and nationalistic violence overnight. While the C.M. endeavors to reach out to the Baloch insurgents, the people of Balochistan from all ethnic and sectarian communities have a clear message for Islamabad and the Punjab: We have paid a very heavy price for Islamabad’s romance with Islamic terrorist organizations. One terrorist group (read LeJ) based in the Punjab province routinely attacks our places of worship, students, universities and even hospitals in the name of Islam and then enjoys absolute impunity. The people of Balochistan are jaded with and outraged at Pakistan’s disastrous love affair with radical Islamist groups. The attack on our female students is the most shocking assault we have ever witnessed. What worse can happen in Balochistan in the name of religion? Nearly 14 young innocent girls were instantly killed in the explosion and the perpetrators brazenly yet confidently accepted responsibility for the attack because they were certain about the Pakistani state’s inability of unwillingness to punish them or dismantle their networks located in the Punjab province.
Balochistan bleeds almost every single day because of Pakistan’s fanatical romance with Islamic terrorist groups such as the LeJ. No matter what ‘national interests” of Pakistan are attached to the promotion of radical Islam, Balochistan should categorically refuse to be used as a ground for such a self-defeating scheme in the name of religion. Today, the Balochs have stood up against Islamabad, tomorrow it could be the Hazaras and the Pashtuns as well because the State’s continued ties with radical groups have disfigured our secular lifestyle. The religious madness is increasing day by day whereas the people of Balochistan are rapidly running out of patience with Pakistan’s blackmail in the name of religion.
Our citizens, no matter what religion, sect and ethnic group they come from, deserve the protection, not the terror, of the central government. And the government should do whatever it takes to ensure that it remains committed to every citizens’ fundamental rights, including the most important right to life.
The Baloch Hal
Published in The Baloch Hal on June 15, 2013