Target killings bring BLA support into new focus
By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani’s continued stance that the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is not behind the recent “target killings” in the province despite the BLA’s claims to the contrary appears to disprove the government’s claims of minimal support for the underground organisation.
Last week, the BLA killed 10 people in three separate incidents of “target killing” in Quetta. The most disturbing of these was the murder of six youths playing cricket in front of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) office. The BLA killed the men, who all hailed from the Hazara community, on charges of being spies for the Military Intelligence and the Inter-Services Intelligence.
The first two incidents of the past week claimed the lives of four Punjabi settlers. In response, the victims’ families marched in front of the Chief Minister’s House to protest. They blocked all rail and road traffic in the city to vent their anger. In the third attack, the relatives of the youths ransacked the reception of the Civil Hospital and blocked the road to register their protest.
However, in the backdrop of these incidents, the fact that the BLA is recognised as “a hope against hopelessness” by Baloch leaders — who either support parliamentary politics or armed resistance — remains indisputable.e.
Initially, Raisani assured the families of the victims that the culprits who had kidnapped their loved ones would be brought to justice. However, he categorically ruled out the involvement of the BLA in such attacks. Despite the proud reiteration by the BLA of its involvement in the killing of the six Hazara men, the CM maintained that the BLA could not target “innocent people”. The Baloch CM sincerely believes that the BLA came about as an outcome of the injustices done to the people of Balochistan in the past. Reading between the lines, the CM appears to be saying that the BLA is “fighting for a just cause”. Therefore, it can’t attack “innocent civilians”.
The government also appears to waver between refusing to acknowledge the existence of the BLA or holding “external forces” responsible for destabilising Balochistan. On its part, the BLA appears to be offended by Raisani’s remarks. One of its spokesmen, Bibarg Baloch, told Daily Times that the CM was discrediting the “Baloch freedom fighters” of their “heroic actions”. The underground organisation has recommended that the CM should rather speak out against the federal government, as well as the army, which he claims is still carrying out a military operation in certain parts of Balochistan.
Similarly, while there was “selective condemnation” of the killing of Punjabi settlers and the young cricketers by the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMP) and the Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), the Baloch nationalist parties preferred to remain ‘neutral’ in uttering their reaction to the assault. Even if they were not pleased with the murders, they could not at the same time afford to offend the BLA, which most followers of these parties believe are “fighting the Baloch war on a more practical front”.
According to sources, the BLA underwent a paradigm shift after the killing of Nawab Muhammad Akbar Khan Bugti on August 26, 2006. At that time, most BLA operations were confined to the rural areas of Balochistan. Meanwhile, the organisation reportedly put extra efforts into urbanising its operations. It is this reason that the BLA-factor, which one appeared to be mainly a rural phenomenon concerning the Marri and Bugti Tribal Areas, has now shifted to public places of Quetta. According to insiders, the Baloch armed movement did not become urbanised until they had spent a lot of time brainwashing the Baloch people, especially the women and children. Today, it is largely believed that a BLA activist would be wholeheartedly welcomed into any Baloch household if he needed protection. In today’s Balochistan, there is an increasing belief that political parties have become irrelevant and only the armed groups can provide justice to the families of the displaced or kidnapped Baloch masses. Prominent Baloch leader Brahamdag Bugti, the grandson of late Akbar Bugti, categorically said last week that the newly formed Balochistan Republican Party (BRP) would extend “100 percent support” to the Baloch armed groups.
Many, including Brahamdag Bugti, believe that the new phase of target killings is but an expected and justified reaction to the operations being taken against their Baloch compatriots. The recent attacks have not only dimmed the prospects of a successful reconciliation, advocated by the PPP, but they have also highlighted the alarmingly widening gulf between the province and the Centre. If the PPP-led reconciliatory process is delayed, it may lead to more lawlessness in the province. Meanwhile, the Baloch leaders are demanding that the government take drastic measures to end the prevailing mistrust by completely ending the military operation and releasing the Baloch political workers. Instead of doing so, Brahamdag Bugti has alleged that more than 200 people have been ‘kidnapped’ in the two months since the induction of the new democratic government.
In the wake of fresh attacks, the provincial government, as well as some federal paramilitary forces, have decided to increase the deployment of forces in the provincial capital.
This, experts believe, may be a temporarily effective solution to combat the worsening law and order issues. However, such measures are unlikely to definitively settle the Balochistan issue.