Demand For Sharia Law in Balochistan

Balochistan AssemblyIf the imposition of the governor rule in Balochistan was actually intended to break the back of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sunni fundamentalism then we have to wait for a second and listen to the fresh crazy demands the Balochistan Assembly is making. In two consecutive sessions of the provincial assembly, legislators from the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (J.U.I.) and the Balochistan National Party (B.N.P.-Awami) have suddenly begun demanding that all legislation should take place under the recommendations of the so-called Council of Islamic Ideology (C.I.I.). Former Minister Maulana Abdul Wasay has demanded that President Asif Ali Zardari should issue an executive order so that the whole country comes under the Islamic rule whereas former Agriculture Minister, Asad Baloch, formerly a left-wing Baloch nationalist activist,ironically, “regretted that the laws in the country had not been made in accordance with the Sharia over the past 65 years.”

This demand put forward by the Balochistan Assembly is absolutely absurd. It does not only reinforce the justification for the dismissal of a provincial government based on its abysmal performance but it also comes as an affront to the victims and relatives of those who lost their lives in the bomb blasts of January 10th in Quetta City. Sunni militant group, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the incident which killed nearly 120 people and injured more than 200 people. The bombings soon led to the imposition of the governor rule in Balochistan, which this newspaper vehemently opposed because we saw the fault lying elsewhere.

The sudden demand for the Sharia now joins the dots enabling us to understand the cause of the governor rule and its effect. It was evident that the governor rule would be taken as a pretext to accelerate operations against the Baloch nationalists and safeguard rogue religious elements.

Days after the governor rule, operations were unleashed in Baloch districts of Mastung, Dera Bugti and Awaran whereas, in order to counter the Baloch nationalists, demands for more Islamic rule gained momentum on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly. At this critical juncture, Balochistan needs initiatives that can de-radicalize our society instead of measures that promote religious fundamentalism and embolden groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

If President Zardari already made up his mind to oust the Balochistan government, we see no reason why the Balochistan Assembly should have still been allowed to exist or operate. He did so only to make his action look less anti-democracy. But it seems the leftover among the parliamentarians are determined to cause more damage than to repair the mess piled in the past few years.

For secular Baloch nationalists who either completely oppose parliamentary politics and those who boycotted the previous elections, Plato’s quote rightly describes the present situation: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Religious fundamentalism is the least noticed but the most urgent threat facing Balochistan. Secular political parties do not seem to be making much noise about it but this is going to be the single most serious threat dominating Balochistan’s political and security landscape in the coming months. No one is talking about it because everyone realizes that it is too big a storm to deal with. Whether or not we agree to initiate a serious conversation among ourselves about the strong waves of radicalization, we should prepare to face the heat.

Religious extremism in Balochistan has already begun to manifest itself from the following avenues.

First, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi intensified its operations 2012 killing nearly 300 Shias, Hazaras in one year (some figures estimate the number much higher). The LeJ threatens to carry out more attacks in 2013.

Second, the Taliban Quetta Shura is based in the heart of the provincial capital. Since 2001, the Pakistani government did not touch the Shura and allowed top Taliban leaders to hide and make strategic decisions in. In the wake of America’s pullout from Afghanistan in 2014, Quetta is destined to once again become the center of Taliban movement, consultations and decisions. Among the Taliban, there is a sense of jubilation of what they view as Washington’s ‘defeat’ or ‘failure’ in Afghanistan.

Third, religious legislation through the Balochistan Assembly with the help of the J.U.I.which has historically kept very close ties with the Taliban will provide a legislative protection to religious elements.

Fourth, Sunni religious and spiritual leaders are also being shot in Baloch-dominated areas. Of course, this is much less in scale as compared to the widespread killing of Shia, Hazaras in Quetta and its neighboring districts of Bolan and Mastung. Baloch districts have rarely been known for protesting against the killing of religious leaders as these town mainly remained the centers of nationalistic politics. However, the strong condemnation from the Balochistan National Party and the National Party of the killing of a religious leader Syed Abdul Baqi Maravi in Bolan district is significant. Expression of anger over killing of Sunni religious scholars in Baloch areas is a new phenomenon which seems to be the inception of the rising Sunni identity politics. Radicalization, backed by a sense of victim-hood, is a slow process and it may sound we strange, at least at this point, to raise eyebrows over the statements of the B.N.P. and the N.P. in support of a religious scholar but this simply shows that their voters, who are increasingly become assertive of their Sunni identity, expect the nationalist parties to take positions on sectarian issues as well.

Fifth, Baloch-majority districts like Khuzdar, Gwadar, Panjgur, Sibi and Noshki have become the regular centers of grand three-day long religious congregations organized by the Tableegi Jammat. Headquartered in Raiwand (Punjab), the group of Islamic preachers strongly only focuses on Baloch districts in its operations. The Tableegi Jammat, whose top clerics are mostly ethnic Punjabis with alleged contacts with the Pakistani secret services and retired army officers (such as the former I.S.I. chief General Javed Nasir), strongly opposes the idea of ethnic nationalism and promotes Muslim brotherhood among all. If the mere objective of the Tableegi Jammat is to serve the cause of Islam then why does it not organizes similar congregations in Pashtun districts of Zhob, Loralai or Pishin?

Democratic political parties, civil society and the media should play their role in protecting Balochistan’s secular culture and discourage every effort that is aimed to promote radicalism and religious and sectarian disharmony among the people of Balochistan. If there is a lesson to learn from the bombings of January 10th then it is to promote communal integration and spurn religious fanaticism.

This editorial was originally published in The Baloch Hal on January 27, 2013


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