Murders Most Foul
The Baloch resistance movement entered a dangerous phase after the killing of a top moderate nationalist leader in Turbat. On July 11, Mir Maula Baksh Dashti, a central committee member of the Baloch National Party (BNP), political party known for its nonviolent and middle-class composition, was killed by unidentified armed men while driving to the city. Dashti, a former chairman of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), softened his nationalistic rhetoric and praised the policies of General Musharraf after becoming Turbat District Nazim.
Then on July 14, unknown armed men killed BNP secretary general and former senator Dr Habib Jalib Baloch in Quetta’s Sariab Road area. This target killing remains the most high profile assassination in Balochistan since the 2006 killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. The fifty-seven year old Moscow-educated Baloch nationalist leader was killed days after a previous failed attack on a BNP political rally in Quetta. A relatively new anti-nationalist organization called the Baloch Musalla Defai Tanzeem (BMDT) accepted responsibility for the attack at the rally, declaring they had intended to kill Jalib.
Jalib, a senior lawyer by profession, sustained seven bullets on the upper part of his body while reading the morning newspaper at his brother’s shop. Jalib died while being shifted to the hospital. This incident sparked a fresh wave of violence accompanied by a countrywide condemnation. The BNP announced three complete days of market and transport strikes across Balochistan, which were supported by different political parties, including Pashtoon and Hazara nationalists across the province.
According to BNP president Sardar Akhtar Mengal, Jalib had been receiving threats for some time. Capital City Police Chief Ghulam Shabir Sheikh said that Jalib had been offered additional security which he had politely declined. “Jalib was overconfident that he would not be targeted because he was too popular among the masses,” said the CCPO, “he used to socialize with the people without any fear.”
Confusion prevailed when two unknown groups simultaneously accepted the responsibility for the killing. First, the Baloch Musalla Defai Tanzeem, which had killed several Baloch nationalist activists in the past, claimed responsibility via its spokesman Mir Jhang Khan in a telephone call made to the local press club. Baloch nationalists insisted that the BMDT is the “killer squad” of the Frontier Corps (FC) and the intelligence agencies. BMDT also took responsibility for the death of Maula Baksh Dashti.
The claim was soon contradicted by another group called the Arslan-ul-Islam, a seemingly religious militant organization. Abu Hamza, the self-proclaimed spokesman for the underground outfit alleged, “We killed Jalib because he was a communist and spoke against Islam. We have ample evidence of his anti-Islamic views which will soon be made public through our website.” The spokesman said that anyone who spoke against Allah and his prophets would be assassinated.
The BNP has been skeptical of claims made by these “dummy armed groups” and feels that these groups have been created by state intelligence agencies to eliminate Baloch nationalist leaders. The Patron-in-Chief of the BNP and a former chief minister of Balochistan, Sardar Attaullah Mengal held the secret intelligence agencies responsible.
Born in 1953 in a lower-middle class family of the Parkani nomadic tribe, Jalib came from a poor background. “He was a self-made man who worked very hard to achieve popular status as a politician,” recalled Siddiq Baluch, a veteran journalist from Quetta. Jalib started his political career with the Baloch Students Organization (BSO) and resisted the autocratic rule of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the governor at the time. Later on, he became chairman of the BSO.
“He went to jail on a number of occasions during the military operation of 1973-77,” said Mr Baluch. “When the situation did not improve in Balochistan, he moved to Afghanistan and spent time in Baloch refugee camps. He used to teach children in the camps during his days of exile in Kabul.” He was in jail during the military regime of General Musharraf when BNP announced a long march called Lashkar-e-Balochistan. He was immured during the lawyers’ movement as well.
Jalib resumed his political career when he returned to Balochistan after amnesty was granted to all Baloch leaders. He became a close ally of Sardar Akhtar Mengal when the Balochistan National Party (BNP) was founded. In 1997, he became a senator on a BNP ticket and served as a member of several standing committees. Jalib staunchly advocated the right of self-determination for the Baloch people and resisted the use of violence in politics. He opposed the cycle of target killings in Balochistan, attracting criticism from Baloch armed groups.
A week after the killing an impromptu meeting of the Central Committee of the BNP was chaired by acting president Dr Jhanzaib Jamaldini in Quetta. Following the deliberations at the meeting, the BNP demanded an investigation into Jalib’s killing by the United Nations (UN) saying they no longer trusted state-sponsored investigation commissions.
“We are fully aware of the criminal negligence and silence of the international community over the human rights issues and killings in Balochistan. It is our legal, moral and human right to register our protest in the so-called established human rights organization working under the UN umbrella,” said Sanaullah Baloch, a former BNP MNA and senator. Sanaullah said thatJalib was not only a liberal, moderateBaloch nationalist, but also vocally opposed the “systematic Talibanization, criminalisation and militarisation of Baloch lands.”
The Balochistan government, on the instructions of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, instituted a judicial commission to investigate the murder. The commission is being headed by a Balochistan High Court senior judge, Justice Mohammad Noor Maskanzai. The investigation has not yet had any breakthroughs and no arrests have been made.
Sanaullah has left the country due to security fears, “The genuine and politically conscious Baloch leaders are under serious threat. They are unacceptable to Islamabad due to their political views. In fact moderate and progressive Baloch leaders are also under threat by religious groups and anti-social and criminal gangs.”
The threat is not over. Days after the killing of Jalib, another important BNP leader Liaquat Mengal was killed in Kalat by BMDT.
Abdul Rauf Mengal, a former BNP MNA said, “The continued killing of Baloch political leaders is a clear sign that ‘someone somewhere’ is not happy with Baloch nationalist sentiments. Instead of using logical and political means, the State and its institutions have decided to intimidate and eliminate politically conscious Baloch activists.”
Experts in Quetta feel that the current wave of target killings are different from previous killings because Baloch tribes are involved and are, for some reason, pitted against each other.
A senior security expert requesting anonymity said, “While it is hard to verify the level and nature of involvement of state agencies in these killings, information surrounding the murderers suggests the possible involvement of Baloch sons working on someone’s instructions.”
A journalist from Noshki, the only district press club where the spokesman of the BMDT called to accept responsibility for the killings said, “The man spoke very lucid Balochi, his accent was natural and local.”
The writer is the editor of the online newspaper, The Baloch Hal
(Courtesy: The Friday Times, Lahore)