PRESS REVIEW: Killing of Balochistan’s Education Minister
The Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) has killed the Balochistan Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan outside his residence in Quetta. The slain minister was a member of the ruling PPP but was Punjabi by extraction. He is the second Balochistan minister to be killed in the last two months. The terrorist “liberators” of the province have killed scores of Punjabis mostly engaged in the education sector as “foreign” settlers to highlight their separatist ideology.
Promptly, someone has put the blame on India. Talking to Daily Times, Quetta’s Commerce College Principal Mirza Amanat Ali Baig said, “Since India has increased the number of consulates in Afghanistan, troubles have enormously increased for us, as terrorists are coming from Afghanistan and getting full support from there”. This may be a good way of explaining the activity of the Baloch insurgents based in Balochistan, but it hardly helps in analysing what is happening in Balochistan or saving Mr Baig from being killed.
A fringe Baloch nationalism has always wanted Balochistan to separate from Pakistan. The genuine grievance of Balochistan against the treatment it has received from the federation has never stopped lending strength to this fringe. But its dominance comes, not from its numbers, but from its ability to practise violence and intimidate. In this its power is no different from the terror practised by the Taliban in Swat. The outreach of BLUF and other extreme nationalists into the lives of the citizens is scary indeed.
It is a pity that at the very moment when violence has increased in Balochistan, the rest of Pakistan is completely in favour of meeting its demands and giving it a better economic deal. Gallup polls and opinion surveys show that the people of Pakistan side with the Baloch cause and wish to punish those who have used violence against the people of Balochistan. At the level of the political parties too there is a consensus over yielding to the demands of Balochistan. The current discussion in the National Finance Commission (NFC) has clearly signalled an unprecedented economic package to Balochistan.
But Balochistan is no longer under any cohesive administrative control to take advantage of the good times that are in store for it. No one otherwise convinced of the new popular attitude towards Balochistan is willing to stand up in Quetta and speak optimistically. Those who kill ensure that no one adopts a positive attitude towards the changing mood in the federation. Elected politicians complain of lax security but collectively demand a shrinking of the role of the police in the province.
The province is unique in having big tribal leaders among the Baloch who are enlightened and influential. Just three or four will swing the opinion of the province this way or that. Since the tragic death of Nawab Akbar Bugti, however, their attitude has stiffened and their demands may have gone beyond the demand for a fair economic deal including possession of the natural resources of the province. The moderate person in Balochistan who prefers the middle course is a very scared and muffled man.
One way Islamabad avoids handling the problem is to emphasise the “conspiracy” theory about Balochistan. It says Balochistan is fine but India is causing all the terrorism happening there. There is no dearth of the “conspiracy theory” among the Baloch too but they see their land being assailed by competing superpowers like America and China, and lesser regional powers like India, Iran and Russia. Islamabad says it has all the proof of India fishing in the troubled waters of Balochistan but will not show it “till it is appropriate to do so”. It keeps on claiming that Balochistan is clean of the Taliban but no one in Quetta believes it.
All kinds of terrorists have assembled in Balochistan partly because of the “strategic depth” policies of the past. There are Afghan refugee camps in the province serving as breeding grounds for jihad against whomever they see as their enemies, including the Shia Hazaras of Quetta. The Iranian Baloch too take shelter in the province and strike across the Iranian border; and there is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi from Punjab which is enslaved to Al Qaeda and its plans in Balochistan. Tragically, those who support separation have no idea of the kind of ethnic-linguistic inferno they are inviting on to themselves.
LOSING faith in a government is one thing. In working democracies this lack of trust is expressed through the ballot box and change can be sought through peaceful means. In short, there is nothing inherently alarming about a change in government. But losing trust in the state is a different matter altogether. Votes don’t enter the equation and protests against real or perceived crimes by the centre stay peaceful only up to a point. At some stage the country’s territorial boundaries come to be questioned. For many in Balochistan this threshold was crossed decades ago — shortly after the country’s creation, in fact, and years before East Pakistanis began pressing for a separate homeland. It seems that those who call the shots in this country have learnt few lessons from the 1971 debacle. Today there is a feeling in Balochistan that the province is part of the federation on paper alone, at the mercy of a state that continues to exploit its natural wealth and quell any sign of dissent with disproportionate force. Promises by the centre mean little, for the simple reason that they have rarely been honoured.
Sunday’s assassination of Balochistan’s education minister is a tragic reminder of the simmering tensions in the province. The full-blown insurgency witnessed in the Musharraf era may be a thing of the past but Balochistan is anything but stable. And matters could get worse if the centre persists with back-pedalling on its commitments. It was pledged early last year that the provinces would be allowed greater control over their own resources. It was said in March 2008 that abolishing the concurrent list — within a year — would ensure a level of provincial autonomy that would benefit the state as a whole. At the same time, Balochistan was promised massive uplift packages that would help the socio-economic development of the country’s most resource-rich yet least privileged province. Those who ‘disappeared’ in Balochistan during Gen Musharraf’s reign of terror would get their day in court. But little or nothing has been delivered on the ground. For the disillusioned, the government has done exactly what they expected: nothing.
True, the state has much on its plate right now. Tackling Taliban militancy and terrorism is a full-time job but that does not mean Balochistan can be ignored. It is widely believed that the separatist movement in the province — at least in its current incarnation — is aided and abetted by external actors. By failing to address the genuine grievances of the Baloch people, the government and state may inadvertently be following a plot line scripted by those who desire chaos in Pakistan.
Tuesday, 27 Oct, 2009 THE NEWS EDITORIAL: Shooting in Quetta
The shooting of the Balochistan education minister is the latest episode in the violence that continues mercilessly in the country. A Baloch nationalist organization has claimed responsibility for the action. The city of Quetta, where the minister was shot down outside his house, is now rocked by tensions between opposing groups as the provincial government announced a three-day period of mourning. The fact is that we have too many strains running through our society. The discontent in Balochistan has been left unaddressed for far too long. Over 18 months after the PPP government took charge in Islamabad, little has been done to tackle the issues of the province. The result has been an upsurge in incidents of violence such as the one that took the life of a man who enjoyed considerable popularity as a politician. His status as a PPP leader may have been one factor why he was targeted. Mr Shafiq Ahmed Khan becomes the second provincial minister to be assassinated within two months. Others too are in danger of attack. In the current volatile situation we face, this will only add to the instability and unrest encountered everywhere.
It is possible that as we descend into further violence, the Baloch nationalists are taking their cue from the Taliban and using similar tactics to make their own voice heard. The targeted killings in Quetta have expanded over the past few years. So too have incidents of kidnapping. The lack of law and order makes us feel as if we were living in a jungle with the state unable to perform its most fundamental duty of protecting life and ensuring safety. The question many of us ask is if there is a way out of this mess. The government’s priority must be to map out such a route. Otherwise it will face only greater and greater disquiet. As one part of a wider action aimed at eliminating militancy, the problems of Balochistan need to be squarely faced. Potentially, there is still space for dialogue between various political forces. But as the divide we see now grows, there is a possibility that this space will narrow, making it more and more difficult to persuade groups to sit together. This would be a recipe for further violence and chaos claiming new lives.
THE targeted killing of Balochistan’s Minister for Education was a deadly reminder of the ongoing terrorism in that province. It is unfortunate that the federal government, apart from declaratory platitudes expressing support and good intent, has failed to move substantively to resolve the problems in that deprived part of Pakistan. The irony is that on Balochistan everyone knows what should be done – that is political and economic solutions to resolve the feeling of discrimination and neglect that are harboured there. With each passing day, the hatred and suspicions mount on all sides and increasing polarisation is becoming ever more evident. After all, the targeted Minister, Shafiq Ahmed Khan, was a strong opponent of the use of military force in the province and a strong proponent apparently of Baloch rights. Yet, because he was in the provincial government, he became a target for the terrorists.
Worse still, our enemies outside are feeding this terrorism in Balochistan and exploiting the people’s resentment towards the state. Kabul continues to house the militant leadership. A critical question our leaders should pose to the US is why it, as the major occupation force in Afghanistan, is unable or unwilling to prevent the militants from using Afghanistan for launching of operations against Pakistan? Or is it a deliberate policy of the US to keep Balochistan destabilised, so as to hinder cooperative ventures like the Iran-Pakistan pipeline to be operationalised; and also to allow themselves space for launching terrorism through Jundullah into Iran’s Sistan province?
The fact of the matter is that Balochistan presents a far graver problem than FATA in terms of Pakistan’s future security and integrity. Because the terrorism and militancy in Balochistan is more targeted, and focused on security personnel, strategic plants and those seen as government collaborators, national focus remains diverted to the more sensational nondiscriminatory and more lethal killings through suicide bombings and bomb blasts that are thought to emanate from the Taliban militants of FATA. But the fast-paced alienation of the Baloch from the state of Pakistan requires a rapid politico-economic response from the state. By allowing ourselves to be diverted to FATA under the usual pressure from the US, we are tending to ignore the Balochistan problem even as external forces are busy exploiting this situation and giving ample succour to the militants who they hope will ignite the fissiparous tendencies within the province. It is time the state offered to welcome back the Prodigal Balochs who are prepared to accept the state and negotiate with it. It is time the green and white crescent and star flew all over Pakistani Balochistan again and was raised across the province by the people of the land itself.
It was clearly a target-killing. Shafiq Ahmed Khan, the Balochistan education minister and a PPP representative in the Raisani provincial cabinet, was in the sight of elements that are systematically playing havoc with ethnic harmony in the province, particularly since his loud protestations over the killing of Quetta’s Commerce College Principal Mirza Amanat Ali Baig.
A number of teachers have been murdered in Balochistan over the last some months and he was very upset over these wanton killings. He would not hesitate in accusing “Indians and elements hiding in Afghanistan” for such killings, insisting that “since India increased the number of consulates in Afghanistan, troubles have enormously increased for us”.
No wonder, within a few hours of the minister’s assassination the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), an underground outfit that demands independence for Balochistan, claimed responsibility for the killing. The said organisation had broken into the newspaper headlines early this year when it kidnapped UNHCR’s local representative, American national John Soleki, but set him free two months later for his ‘ill-health’ – raising suspicions about the BLUF’s real credentials.
What a tragedy; only last week the Balochistan Assembly adopted a resolution asking the Federal government to allow duty-free, bullet-proof cars for ministers. But the foregoing is only a part of the Baloch saga, replete with treachery and betrayal. Obviously, given more than half a century of broken pledges, the Balochs’ faith in commitments and promises made by the Centre – in hindsight those appear to be more of fire-fighting than honest words – has worn dangerously thin.
The same trust-deficit tends to obtain even when after the present government in Islamabad has completed 18 months. One may ask what happened to Prime Minister Gilani’s promise to abolish the Concurrent Legislative List? And how long have we travelled beyond what now appears to be the Senator Raza Rabbani-headed parliamentary committee’s report on Balochistan? Of course, there is some forward movement on human rights situation in Balochistan, since the demise of General Musharraf’s oppressive era.
But the wounds the dictatorial regime inflicted on the people of Balochistan are too deep to heal soon. That those raw wounds have the readily available potential to provide hostile forces the staple to fire up anti-Pakistan insurgency in Balochistan, there is no doubt about that. Of course since Prime Minister Gilani’s meeting with his Indian counterpart at Sharm el-Sheikh in June, much more evidence of Indian interference has come to light.
But whether someone else too is fishing in these troubled waters we would not know, until the mystery of Jundullah is resolved. The ultimate solution to the ongoing Balochistan imbroglio lies within our own national borders. It is essentially a national issue that unfortunately has been allowed to fester for too long-long enough to encourage our adversaries to feast on.
Hope had stirred that with the advent of democratic era, things would change for the better for the people of Balochistan. But that did not happen, mainly because the focus shifted onto the war on terror and, consequently, the peace and tranquillity required to rebuild the badly fractured Baloch society was hijacked by anti-state elements. The elements’ most potent weapon is an ethnic discord in Balochistan and they are using it extensively.
But surely the ferocity of their subversive activity notwithstanding, their chances of ultimate victory in their blood sport of target-killing is absolutely nil. The people of Pakistan can fight these elements with bare hands; by standing up to them, by displaying ethnic unity and social and sectarian harmony.
In the meanwhile, it is important that the concerned officials in Islamabad and Quetta move beyond the oft-reiterated intents and purposes outlined by various committees and commissions over all these years, and come up with tangible results. Something on the ground makes better image than the hot air of rosy promises.
BALOCHISTAN has been witnessing shocking incidents at regular intervals including killing of high profile figures and acts of sabotage creating a sense of insecurity among the law-abiding citizens. The assassination of Provincial Education Minister Shafiq Ahmad Khan in Quetta on Sunday once again draws the attention of the authorities that there was urgent need for taking major policy decisions to bring the situation back to normalcy.
Shafiq Ahmad Khan was a die-hard PPP leader, had no personal enmity and refused to get security guards. The gory incident shook not only Quetta and other parts of Balochistan but the entire country and a protect rally was also taken out in the Provincial Capital against his killing at the hands of misguided elements of Balochistan Liberation United Front. Its spokesman while claiming the responsibility for the murder said it was revenge to the murder of three Baloch leaders. Earlier a Balochistan Provincial Minister was killed in Karachi while firing incident took place at the residence of another in Quetta. These happenings leave no doubt that the three Baloch leaders were assassinated under a deep-rooted conspiracy to stir violence in order to keep the Province in turmoil. In the meantime, it is of utmost importance that political leadership of the Province, including the elected representatives must play their role to guide the masses, particularly the youths not to become tools in the hands of enemies of the country as they are not friends of Baloch people but exploiting them for the attainment of their nefarious designs. There is no doubt that international powers, including our neighbour are directly and indirectly behind the instability in Balochistan and the need is to persuade the major political players in the Province to realize the gravity of the situation, forget injustices done to them in the past and contribute in restoring some sort of stability. At the same time we would impress upon the Prime Minister to take the initiative, meet prominent Baloch leaders and announce the Balochistan package without any loss of time to remove sense of deprivation among the people there.