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Balochistan: Sanguinary Faultlines

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By Ambreen Agha
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

In another act of targeting settlers from outside Balochistan, Baloch insurgents shot dead 22 Pashtuns on May 29, 2015, all of them daily wagers and labourers, who were travelling in two passenger buses en route to Karachi (Sindh) from Pishin District (Balochistan), in the Khad Kucha area of Mastung District. At least 15 to 20 militants, wearing Security Forces’ (SF) uniforms, came in three pickup trucks and abducted some 35 passengers. The militants subsequently killed 22, and set free another five. The fate of the remaining eight is unknown.

Lamenting the Mastung carnage, Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) Chairperson Aftab Ahmad Sherpao expressed his anxiety over ethnic violence and observed that the miscreants wanted to create ethnic chaos in the Province, as they killed 22 Pashtuns, and let the non-Pashtun cleaners off the buses after checking their identity cards.

The United Baloch Army (UBA), a Baloch separatist group, claimed responsibility for the killings. Mureed Baloch, UBA 'spokesman', declared on May 30, “It is a revenge for killing of militants in Mastung and Kalat areas by Security Forces.”

On May 17, 2015, SFs had killed at least 20 militants, including nine 'commanders', during an operation in Kalat District.  In another such operation on March 29, 2015, SFs had killed five militants and injured another six in Mastung District.

Meanwhile, in retaliations to the May 29 attack, the Frontier Corps (FC) claimed to have killed 16 alleged UBA militants during two different search operations. At least seven UBA militants were killed on May 30, in the same area where the 22 Pashtuns had been killed. Again, on June 1, at least nine UBA militants were killed in the Morgan Harboi area of Kalat District. Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti confirmed the retaliatory action that killed the militants, adding that around 500 personnel of FC, Police and Levies Force took part in the operation. Four helicopters provided by the Federal Government were also deployed during the operation.   

In a similar act of ethnic carnage, on April 10, 2015, militants of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), another Baloch separatist outfit, shot dead at least 20 Punjabi and Sindhi construction labourers at their camp in the Gagdan area of Turbat District. Out of the 20 deceased labourers, 16 were Punjabis, and four were from the Hyderabad District in Sindh. A senior administration official, Akbar Hussain Durrani, disclosed that the militants had lined the labourers up and shot them at point blank range after confirming their identity. BLF 'spokesman' Goran Baloch had claimed responsibility for the attack, asserting, “We will continue our fight against Pakistani occupation until (the) liberation of Balochistan.”

At that time as well, FC retaliated by killing at least 13 alleged BLF militants in a raid on April 13, 2015, including one key militant 'commander' Hayat Bewas, in the same area.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 181 ‘outsiders’ have been killed in Balochistan since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, leader of the Bugti tribe and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), on August 26, 2006, in a military operation in the Chalgri area of the Bhamboor Hills in Dera Bugti District. The killings of settlers started only after the Bugti killing, when Baloch militant organizations such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), BLF and Baloch Republican Army (BRA), among others, began to voice anti-Punjabi sentiments. Akbar Bugti’s killing led to a series of attacks on Punjabi and other non-Baloch settlers in Balochistan, as well as to massive destruction of national infrastructure.

While most of the 181 ‘outsiders’ killed were from Punjab, other ethnic groups, including Urdu-speaking people from Karachi and Hindko-speaking settlers from Haripur District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), have also been singled out in acts of ethnic violence. A media report published on June 28, 2011, had noted, “Almost all non-Baloch are on their hit-list.” According to the SATP database, however, the May 29, 2015, attack was the first against Pashtun settlers. Nevertheless, apprehensions regarding ethnic imbalances and consequent tensions had been raised way back in 1993, when Tahir Amin, Director, National Institute of Pakistan Studies (NIPS), had observed,

Today with a large number of Afghan refugees not having gone back, the demographic profile in Balochistan has changed. If the refugees decide to stay permanently, the traditional ethnic balance between the Baloch and Pashtun population will shift in favour of Pashtuns.

The latest attack on Pashtun settlers is claimed as retaliation by the Baloch people against the Pakistani establishment’s deliberate attempt to ignore the genuine grievances of the Baloch people, which include the outsourcing of labour from other Provinces, deliberately keeping the local Baloch away from development work in the Province and depriving them of their own resources.

While Baloch separatist depredations escalate, there is no let up in Islamabad’s continued policy of engineering ‘disappearances’ and carrying out extrajudicial killings in the name of neutralizing the militant threat. Indeed, Abdul Qadeer Baloch, also known as Mama Qadeer, leader of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) referring to the FC claim of having killed at least 13 BLF militants in a raid on April 13, 2015, following the April 10 attack, asserted that five of the 13 suspects killed had been missing for some time. The claim left the incident shrouded in controversy. As SAIR has noted repeatedly in the past, extrajudicial killings by state agencies have become a recurring problem in the Province.

Of the 3,418 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 [data till June 7, 2015], at least 859 civilian killings are attributable to one or other militant outfit. Of these, 347 civilian killings (202 in the South and 145 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations while the Islamist and sectarian extremist formations, primarily Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India), claimed responsibility for another 512 civilian killings, 506 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and six in the South. The remaining 2,559 civilian fatalities - 1,547 in the South and 1,012 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 security and intelligence agencies, particularly including the FC and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). The large number of unattributed civilian fatalities strengthens the widespread conviction that the Security Agencies are busy with “kill and dump” operations against local Baloch dissidents, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court clearly recognized on July 26, 2012, while hearing the case of enforced disappearances and missing persons.

Significantly, the May 29, 2015, attack came just two days after the decision to launch targeted operations in provincial capital Quetta and the surrounding areas. Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, on May 27, announced that the Government had decided to launch a "grand targeted operation" to curb terrorism. He said that FC, Police, Levies and other intelligence and Law Enforcement Agencies would take part in the operation. "Nobody would be spared, strict action would be taken against terrorists", he asserted. This declaration had been preceded by the revelation by unnamed official sources, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his meeting with Army Chief General Raheel Sharif on April 15, 2015, had decided to expand the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb to Balochistan, to target the Baloch insurgents. The Army had launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the TTP and associated Islamist terrorist formations in the North Waziristan Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on June 15, 2014, in the aftermath of the attack on the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, on June 8-9, 2014.

Amidst disappearances, torture and indiscriminate artillery attacks, the Baloch stand hardened in their separatist resolve. As the Government decides to further entrench militarization by launching its "grand operation", the ethnic problem in Balochistan is bound to worsen. The butchery in Mastung suggests that ethnic minorities are now at risk across the Province. Such proclivities are likely to intensify with the continuation of Islamabad’s enduring policy of economic marginalisation, exploitation and deprivation of the Baloch people, the deepening sense of alienation, and the wrongs inflicted by the Punjabi-dominated Federal Government. Numerous ‘packages’ have been announced to provide relief to the Baloch people, but the only policy that is implemented on the ground is a continuation of past strategies of repression by military force and marginalization through demographic engineering.

[Source: SATP]

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