Terror’s return-trip to Quetta
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Silence does not mean the extinction of a perpetual threat. Terror on the name of religion has remained the omnipresent menace of our society for the past few years. It has, like all other provinces, visited Balochistan, more than once to cause immense devastation. There was surprisingly a lull in suicide bombings in the province for a while. Terror struck again on Friday with extraordinary force to attack a hospital.
Quetta’s Civil Hospital came under an ugly terrorist strike on Friday morning which killed twelve people and injured around forty others. Multiple factors contributed to the increasing death tool. Firstly, unidentified persons opened fire on Arshad Zaidi, a Shia-bank manager who was also the son of prominent Shia leader Asraf Zaidi, outside a bank in the wee hours of Friday which killed him on the spot. When his dead body was taken to the civil hospital, a large number of family friends, relatives and sympathizers as well as a member of the national assembly (MNA), Syed Nasir Ali Shah, rushed to the hospital to see the dead body.
As the presence of supporters of the slain bank officer, the media and enraged protestors from the Shia community at the hospital coincided, presumably the same elements who had carried out the first attack took this as an advantage to launch a second offensive. Thus, a suicide bomber, in the second phase of a chain of attacks, below himself up at the Casualty Ward of the hospital to cause more damage. Consequently, two senior police officials, some other police recruits and a seasoned television journalist of a private news channel died on the spot. Scores of journalists and policemen also received severe injuries, some very serious ones.
The blast led to the loss of control of the city by the local police as a group of “identifiably unidentified” armed persons took control of the area surrounding the local hospital. They resorted to aerial firing and terrorizing the people who passed from the area. There are confirmed reports that one such citizen who worked at the civil hospital did not die because of the first case of target killing or the subsequent suicide bomb blast inside the hospital. His relatives alleged that he had been shot dead by the mob that took the city in its control with the police remaining absolutely dormant to take action against them.
While Deputy Inspector General (DIG-Investigation) Qazi Wahid told journalists in Quetta that the police department had installed at least 91 close-circuit cameras to monitor the activities of suspected terrorists, Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), Shabir Shiek remained speechless in his press conference later in the day when journalists asked him why the police did not have any clues about these armed civilians who resorted to firing to kill and injure more civilians. The high-ranking police officer was too embarrassed when the press cameramen refuted his statement about lack of evidence at a chaotic time by insisting that the latter was willing to share video footage with the local police provided that action was taken against the elements responsible for taking the law in their hands.
The CCPO reminded everyone about the almost-forgotten threat Quetta city faces from Taliban by saying that the head of the suicide bomber recovered by the police indicated that the mastermind of the attack was a “Taliban-type” of young “non-local man” aging between twenty-two to twenty-five years. Preferably, the Quetta police should refrain from jumping into immediate conclusions and making instant generalizations. As a three-pronged inquiry comprising of DIG Operations, DIG Investigations and the Crimes Investigation Department (CID) officials has been constituted to probe Friday’s carnage, the police department should delve all possible options into the matter.
Quetta city has remained the hub of sectarian violence for quite some time. Sectarian killings have claimed hundreds of lives since the process of Islamization was officially patronized during the gruesome martial law days of General Zia-ul-Haq as a state policy with the intention to counter the explanation of Iranian (Shia) Islamic revolution inside Pakistan.
Anti-Shia feelings further gained impetus during the radical Sunni regime of Taliban in Afghanistan which gained considerable support in some sections of the Pakistani society and the polity. Since then, no sincere efforts were ever made on the official level to exterminate sectarianism in Balochistan or any other part of the country. General Musharraf’s decision to ban a few hardliner religious groups in Pakistan or reform the religious schools was merely eyewash to notch political scores. It did not prove helpful to the cause of making Pakistan a moderate and tolerant country.
Friday’s deadly blast has reiterated the threat of a possible showdown of power by the underground religious militants hiding inside Balochistan. The Untied States of America and the international community have often billed Quetta as the headquarters of Taliban, who are gung-ho to introduce suicide bombings in this part of the world. This event once again indicates that all is not well in Balochistan. These silent, and sometimes smoky, guns pose an unremitting grim challenge to the province which needs to be very wisely tackled by the provincial government and the people of the province.