On target killings of Punjabi teachers in Balochistan
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Punjabi settlers biggest victims of Bugti aftermath
* Civil society in Balochistan has remained silent over killings due to fear of nationalist backlash
* Pashtuns parting ways with dominant Baloch allies following violence
By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: The sympathies that the Baloch nationalist movement had acquired during the rule of former president Pervez Musharraf now seem to be diminishing, following the targeted killings of Punjabi teachers, professors and principals in the province.
The recent killings of three principals and a schoolteacher in less than two months came as a shock for the entire nation, especially due to their ethnic nature.
While the Taliban in the NWFP have resorted to torching girls’ schools in order to deprive a generation of Pashtun girls from education, a nationalist militant group in Balochistan is currently bent on targeting and killing Punjabi educationists to push the province back into medieval times.
Fear: Unlike the situation in the NWFP, the civil society in Balochistan has remained a silent spectator, simply out of fear. When Musharraf’s government launched a military operation against Baloch leaders and killed Nawab Akbar Bugti, a chorus of condemnation rang out in support of the Baloch people from all corners of society. The Baloch leadership was assured complete support by politicians, intellectuals and scholars of other provinces.
However, it seems the biggest victims of Bugti killing’s aftermath have been Punjabi settlers in Balochistan.
Militant groups in Balochistan had earlier asked Punjabis to leave the province, a warning not taken seriously until a number of Punjabis were killed.
As things stand today, property rates in Punjabi-dominated localities of Quetta have fallen remarkably as Punjabis hastily sell their homes to try and escape the insurgency-hit province.
In the second phase, which commenced with the killing of three Baloch leaders in Turbat in April this year, a hitherto unknown militant segment of the Baloch nationalist movement has warned schoolteachers and principals to refrain from playing the national anthem and hoisting the national flag on official buildings. In case of non-compliance, the violators have been threatened with death.
In the backdrop of these challenges, the principals of Balochistan Residential College at Khuzdar, Government Commerce College Quetta and Government Pilot Secondary School Mastung, all Punjabis, have been killed, while the provincial government watches silently.
Distancing: As the killings of teachers intensify, the Pashtuns, who constitute the second largest ethnic group in Balochistan, appear to part ways with their erstwhile political allies, the dominant Baloch people. Pashtun political parties have vocally opposed the target killings in Quetta and demanded the Baloch nationalists openly condemn these killings and disassociate themselves with the elements responsible.
Similarly, members of civil society, human rights activists and intellectuals from other provinces have been perturbed by these targeted killings.
Such friends of Balochistan are now reasserting a “calculated support” to the Baloch case against the state, rather than their “unconditional support” to the aggrieved Baloch people.
“The government, as well as the Baloch civil society, has observed criminal silence over the targeted killings of Punjabi teachers,” complains a senior professor at the University of Balochistan.
“If Punjabi professors and professionals are not protected and compelled to leave Balochistan, many key institutions in the province will remain shut or at least dysfunctional.” He said the government and nationalists ought to separate education from politics. “Teachers serve the humanity regardless of their own religious, national, lingual and racial affiliations. They need protection and respect if a society is keen to progress,” he stated.
It was learnt that at least 14 teachers of the Balochistan Residential College, all Punjabis, have requested for transfers. There have also been similar reports of several PhD-holders prominent professors at the University of Balochistan planning to permanently leave the province.
If Balochistan is to be prevented from utter chaos, experts recommend, all the stakeholders in Balochistan and Islamabad should urgently keep politics aside and devise a strategy to protect Balochistan’s teachers. “If the government and the nationalists fail to sit together and address this dire situation, Balochistan’s educational institutions will be deserted for good. The major loser, if such a situation emerges, would be Baloch children, not Punjab, whom the Baloch nationalists hold responsible for everything,” an education expert said.