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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mengal’s timely warning

By Imtiaz Gul
Published: December 21, 2011
The writer is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and a fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo
The Veteran Baloch nationalist, Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal’s warning that atrocities against the Baloch have pushed the situation to a “point of no return” is timely. After his meeting with Nawaz Sharif in Karachi on December 19, Mengal came down hard on the Pakistani security establishment, holding ‘the Punjabi army’ responsible for inhuman acts against the Baloch people.
“The Baloch youth don’t want a Pakistan in which they receive mutilated bodies of their compatriots … they are being systematically eliminated and forced to seek refuge in the mountains,” said the former chief minister of Balochistan and the founding chief of the Balochistan National Party.
Mengal also accused Interior Minister Rehman Malik of hurling threats at the Baloch in the same way former president General Musharraf did. While many in Pakistan might dismiss part of Mengal’s loaded criticism of the centre and the army, the multiple crises in Balochistan do merit serious and urgent consideration.
There is little doubt that Balochistan is most probably as much a microcosm of Pakistan’s security and political crisis as is Fata. Almost 450 murders since January so far; dozens of abductions and hundreds of attacks on key security and utility installations suggest that the province is currently going through one of the worst political, economic and security crises in its history.
The growing influence of religious extremists in the province is noticeable from the fact that the highest number of attacks on Nato supplies were carried out in Balochistan during the last four years, apparently by Taliban or pro-Taliban elements. The unusual number of target killings of Hazaras also bears testimony to the increased involvement in sectarian terrorism of outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Most Pakistani security agencies, officials and people at large, usually suspect external forces such as Afghanistan, the US and India of stoking and supporting nationalist violence to allegedly force Pakistan to accept their demands, which include serious tackling of organisations such as the so-called Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Based on the trends the Centre for Research and Security Studies observed since January this year, one could probably narrow down the current wave of violence in Balochistan to four key categories i.e. Baloch separatists, sectarian, external and internal forces (security agencies). All of them are so intricately intertwined that no easy deduction is possible to pinpoint the culprits behind most violent incidences.
Sectarian violence, the data suggests, claimed the second highest number of deaths after those caused by the nationalist militancy during the period starting from 2003 to December 2011. Shia were the primary victims of sectarian attacks and a majority of these attacks occurred in Quetta (237) and Jhal Magsi (36). Hindus were also affected by this violence, which forced them to migrate to other parts of the province or the country. Suicide attacks were the major cause of death (150) followed by non-suicide fatal attacks (114) and bombings (10). Officially banned organisations, mainly the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, were the ones that often claimed responsibility for such attacks and the minority Hazara community living in the region was the major victim of this violence.
Dr Malik Baloch, a balanced nationalist leader, also draws attention to the alarming circumstances that currently prevail in Balochistan. He, too, dismisses the Balochistan package, scorns the predominance of the security forces in governance and security matters and considers them to be a major source of discontent among the Baloch people in particular. Despite all these misgivings, Dr Baloch still pretends to be optimistic. Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad recently, he said that the dominant majority of the Baloch people are probably still pro-federation if their bruised egos are assuaged. The present provincial parliament, he said, had lost its relevance and only a fresh mandate could probably help restore the trust of the Baloch in the political system, which is leaking and creaking under misgovernance, violence and apathy of rulers.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2011.

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