A Collective Loss
A prominent religious scholar, Hafiz Ehtesham-ul-Haq Baloch, was shot dead by unidentified people outside his residence in Sari Koran town of District Panjgur. The slain cleric was the district head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) who was widely respected in the area for his political, social and intellectual contributions.
It was the first time in the history of Mekran Division, which comprises of the districts of Panjgur, Gwadar and Turbat, that a top religious scholar has been brutally assassinated. According to the local residents, the funeral of the slain scholar was attended by an extremely large number of people, making it one of the largest funerals ever seen in terms of public attendance in the history of the area.
No group has accepted responsibility for the killing of the respected cleric. However, the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which is a coalition partner in the Balochistan government, has officially blamed the provincial government and its institutions for the killing of a man to whom the JUI has paid rich tributes. Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, the provincial chief of JUI, has questioned the commitment of the government authorities investigating what it called as ‘increasing attacks’ on religious figures.
Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani has also strongly condemned the killing and ordered the arrest of the elements responsible for the tragic incident. The provincial police have never complied with such chief ministerial instructions in the past, indicating the state of bad governance in the resource-rich province.
A religious leader in Baloch culture has to broker multiple unwritten deals with the society in order to gain an acceptable position in the society. Unlike many places in Pakistan where the institution of “mullah” largely performs moral policing, the mullah in Baloch culture exercises limited influence. However, his role remains crucial because of ctive participation in social and cultural activities in the area. A religious leader, because of his abstinence from interfering in people’s personal religious beliefs, is widely respected in the Baloch society.
Hafiz Ehtesham-ul-Haq represented a similar breed of religious scholars who learned English language from private schools and encouraged the teaching of computer skills inside religious schools. Likewise, people with right-wing affiliations such as late Maulana Abdul Haq Baloch and journalist Khalid Waleed Saifi of Gwadar and Kech districts respectively have remarkably contributed to creating awareness among the people about Baloch rights.
Mekran has historically been known as the Mecca of writers, poets, intellectuals and qualified bureaucrats. The region has enormously contributed to Balochistan’s literary landscape. The killing of a prominent religious scholar does not bode well for Mekran’s future. This is a negative and alarming trend which should be checked without much delay. Since there has not been major tensions between Baloch nationalists and religious parties, we sincerely hope that all stakeholders will sit together to reverse this appalling trend.
Mekran has remained a society where difference of opinion has always been debated in newspaper columns or put on the table during elections. There has been no precedence of murdering people with an important position in the society. While we do not agree with the Taliban-centered politics of JUI, this newspaper strongly denounces violence against unarmed citizens and important figures of Balochistan. The government should investigate the matter and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Hafiz Ehtesham’s killing should also remind JUI’s Baloch leaders that they ought to pay more attention to Balochistan’s pressing woes instead of rallying for distant causes like Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan. They have a responsibility to know that the killing of figures like Mr. Ehtesham is, at the end of the day, not different from the ongoing series of killings of prominent Baloch politicians, doctors, students and people from assorted domains of life. Political forces in the area should not disassociate themselves from one another in the wake of such tragic incidents by calling these cases as the burden of one specific political party. Baloch leaders, whether religious or secular, are all currently confronted with threats to their lives. (Courtesy: The Baloch Hal)