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By Anurag Tripathi
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

At least eight Punjabi poultry farm labourers were found dead in the Sakran area of Hub tehsil (revenue unit) in Lasbela District of Balochistan on October 19, 2014. Police sources said that unknown armed men had kidnapped nine labourers from a poultry farm in Sakran on October 18 and killed eight of them after checking their identity cards.

Earlier on April 15, 2014, at least two Punjabis were killed and a child was injured when unidentified militants opened fire at a barber shop on Sariab Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The Superintendent of Police (SP) Imran Qureshi disclosed that the victims belonged to Punjab and were working on Sariab Road for a long time. "This was an act of targeted killing," he added.

After the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 26, 2006, in a military operation in the Chalgri area of the Bhamboor Hills in Dera Bugti District, a series of attacks on Punjabi and other non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan, as well as the destruction of national infrastructure, commenced. On August 23, 2007, Punjabi-speaking hair salon owners in Quetta said that they felt insecure after attacks on their shops in preceding months and demanded that the Government provide them security. An unnamed Barbershop Owners’ Association member said they were facing security problems due to their ethnic background. "Since Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing last year, more than 12 attacks have been made on barbershops. The number of attacks in interior Balochistan is higher," he claimed, adding that around 800 barbers worked in Quetta and that most of them hailed from Punjab: "Business is affected badly, as workers are fleeing the city in order to avoid ethnic attack."

In the wake of the Bugti killing, Baloch militant organisations such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) began to paint slogans such as 'down with Punjabis', 'Long Live Azad Balochistan', etc. Punjabis were mainly targeted, but other ethnic groups have also been hit — Urdu-speaking people from Karachi and Hindko-speaking settlers from Haripur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 17 Punjabi settlers have already been killed in the current year (data till October 23, 2014). In 2013, the number of such fatalities stood at 29; in 2012, at 26; in 2011, at 13; in 2010, at 21; and 18 and 1 in 2009 and 2008, respectively. Data also suggests that the civilians killed by insurgents are either Punjabi settlers, who have been located in Balochistan under Islamabad’s design to alter the region's demography, or people suspected to be spying for state agencies.

According to the SATP database, at least 125 Punjabi settlers have been killed in Balochistan since 2008. Most of the Punjabi settler killings are recorded in South Balochistan (principally in Bolan, Turbat, Gwadar, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Sibi and Lasbela Districts) which accounts for 101 killings; followed by 24 in North Balochistan (mostly in Nushki, Quetta and Mustang District). The overwhelming concentration of such killings in the South is because South Balochistan is dominated by Baloch insurgent groups, while the North is dominated by Islamist extremist formations such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

Of the 3,274 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004, at least 807 civilian killings are attributable to one or another militant outfit. Of these, 305 civilian killings (182 in the South and 123 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations while the Islamist and sectarian extremist formations, primarily LeJ, TTP and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India), claimed responsibility for the killing of another 502 civilians, all in the North, mostly in and around Quetta. The remaining 2,467 civilian fatalities - 1,521 in the South and 946 in the North - remain ‘unattributed’. A large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities, particularly in the Southern region, are believed to be the result of enforced disappearances carried out by state agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). The 305 civilian killings attributed to Baloch formations include at least 125 Punjabis, since 2008.

Baloch Republican Army (BRA) General Secretary Dr. Bashir Azeem observed, on September 19, 2014, “The Baloch has been struggling against the excesses and tyranny of Punjab-dominated establishment of Pakistan for decades.” Resource-rich, though sparsely populated Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth. Despite its vast natural endowment, Balochistan is Pakistan’s poorest Province.

Some of the prominent major attacks (each resulting in three or more fatalities) targeting Punjabi settlers in Balochistan include:

January 8, 2013: At least six persons were killed and another five sustained injuries in three different firing incidents in Shiekhwasil area of Mastung District. An unnamed Levies official confirmed, “The deceased and injured were residents of Punjab."

August 6, 2013: At least 14 Punjabi persons, including three security personnel, were killed in an attack by BLA militants on five passenger buses in Machh area of Bolan District. The buses were on their way from Quetta to Punjab when 200 militants intercepted them in Machh and abducted the passengers. The militants killed Punjabi passengers after inspecting their national identity cards (NICs).

July 6, 2012: At least 18 Punjabi-speaking persons, who were travelling to Iran, were shot dead and another two were injured when Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) militants attacked their vehicles in the Basoli area of Turbat District.

July 23, 2011: At least five labourers of Punjabi ethnicity were shot dead by unidentified assailants in Kisankuri area of Nushki town in Nushki District.

August 14, 2010: Unidentified assailants singled out Punjabi passengers travelling on a bus, killing 10 and injuring five near Ahd-e-Gham in Mach town of Bolan District.

August 14, 2010: At least six Punjabi speaking persons were shot dead by assailants riding a motorcycle when they were going home from work in the Khilji Colony of Quetta.

February 3, 2009: The BRA admitted to having killed four Punjabis in the Nushki Districts. Unidentified people riding on a motorcycle opened indiscriminate fire on a welding shop owned by a Punjabi. According to sources, the shop had been attacked many times in the past because of its Punjabi links.

The targeted killings have created an atmosphere of fear and terror among settlers across Balochistan. According to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report on October 15, 2014, more than 300,000 people have fled the Province over the past 10 years due to growing unrest. Tahir Hussain Khan, president of the Balochistan chapter of the independent HRCP asserted that 90,000 people who had fled were from Punjabi and Urdu-speaking communities, and had left to avoid violence by Baloch nationalists.

Further compounding ethnically targeted violence, according to partial data compiled by SATP, Balochistan has recorded 218 incidents of attacks on gas pipelines, in which 16 persons have been killed and 31 injured since 2005 (Data till October 23, 2014). In one such attack on September 30, 2014, a gas pipeline was blown up in the Zain Bugti area of Dera Bugti District, suspending gas supply from Well No. 10 to the Sui plant in the area. BRA claimed responsibility for the attack, and its spokesperson vowed to continue targeting gas pipelines and Security Forces in the District.

Baloch separatists allege that the Federal Government is systematically suppressing development in Balochistan to keep the Baloch people weak. The attacks on Punjabi settlers are thus claimed as retaliation by Baloch people against the Pakistan establishment for continuously ignoring the genuine demands of the Baloch people.  

Even as both the Provincial and Federal Governments persist in their neglect of the ground realities of the Province, Islamabad’s strategy of supporting armed Islamist extremist formations and other violent proxies has enormously worsened the situation in Balochistan. State agencies have been active in repressing Baloch groups articulating the genuine demands of the community, even as the most basic issues, including the urgent crisis of extra judicial killings, continue to be ignored. Such a strategy, long embedded in Islamabad's approach to this restive Province is bound to bring more chaos in the already destabilized region.

Interestingly, on December 30, 2013, the Balochistan Government evolved a “smart and effective security policy”. Under the new policy, operations would commence against Baloch militant formations, such as BRA, BLA, BLT, United Baloch Army (UBA), Baloch United Liberation Front (BULF) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). Significantly, Islamist terrorist formations find no mention in this listing, though they are responsible for the greater proportion of attributable attacks and killings in the Province. Fortunately or unfortunately, however, nothing much has been done to put this policy into practice.

Conspicuously, SFs remain preoccupied with their “kill and dump” operations, while Islamabad continues to wait out the crisis in the Province. Meanwhile, the problems deepen as legitimate demands and genuine grievances are ignored. The recent and tragic incidents targeting Punjabi settlers highlight the cumulative failures of both the Federal and Provincial Governments, in restoring peace and justice in Balochistan.

[Source: SATP]

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