The year 2013 is off to a bloody start in Pakistan. On Thursday January 10th, 118 people were killed in two separate bomb attacks in the city of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. Also 22 people were killed in a bombing at a Mosque in the city of Mingora, the main city of Swat district. And to top it all off 15 people were gunned down in various incidents in the city of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and the provincial capital of Sindh.
The first bombing in Quetta targeted a Frontier Corps patrol, the FC is a paramilitary force controlled by the Pakistan Army and is implicated in various atrocities and human rights abuses in Baluchistan. The explosion killed 12 people including several FC men, several women, and a child. Responsibility for the blast was claimed by Baloch separatists who since 2004 have been rebelling against the Pakistani State and demanding independence for Baluchistan. The separatists are secular nationalists who have borne the brunt of a bloody armed crackdown by the Pakistan army.
Later in the afternoon a bomb exploded at a popular Billiard’s club in a Shia Muslim neighbourhood of Quetta. The club was heavily damaged and a few minutes later after rescue workers, police officers, and media personnel had swarmed the site, a second bomb exploded which caused the billiard’s club to collapse. The total death total from the two bombings stands at 106; most of them members of the Hazara community who are ethnically distinct from most Pakistani’s and practice the minority Shia sect of Islam.
Responsibility for the Billiard’s club bombings was claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi a militant group that was founded in 1985 during the dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq that targets Shia Muslims as heretics. The LeJ recieved state patronage during Zia’s rule and despite the many attacks it carried out on Shia’s it was only banned in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11. Since 1999 the LeJ has waged an increasingly bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing against the 500 000 strong Hazara community of Quetta. So far 1100 Hazara’s have been killed, thousands injured, and 150 000 forced to flee Pakistan.
The Hazara community refused to bury their 96 dead on Friday (Islamic tradition dictates that bodies must be buried as soon as possible after death), and instead have staged a Dharna (sit in) on one of Quetta’s main roads; thousands of Hazara have been sitting beside the coffins of their loved ones in an unprecedented protest, and have vowed not to bury their dead until the government accedes to their demands for the dismissal of the provincial government and the handing over of security in Quetta to the Pakistan Army.
Late on Sunday the Federal government dismissed the provincial government and imposed Governor’s Raj (rule). The Hazara community agreed to end the Dharna and their dead were buried on Monday. Baluchistan is now under the control of Governor Zulfikar Ali Magsi, who had visited the injured in hospital on Thursday and had declared of himself and the provincial government that ”We have lost the right to govern”. The now dismissed Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani was abroad during the attacks and has not returned to Pakistan; instead he has been staying in a luxury British hotel. Raisani was rarely in Baluchistan during his tenure and was better known for his motorcycling hobby than his attention to governance.
The protesters have dropped their demand for bringing the Army into Quetta perhaps realizing how dangerous such a move would be. The Army is directly responsible for most of the violence in Baluchistan and any move to grant them more power in Baluchistan would further inflame the Baloch rebellion and could possibly be used by the Army as a pre-text to force the government to delay the elections scheduled for the spring of 2013 which would mark the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratic government has completed its 5 year term and transferred power to another democratically elected government. It should also be noted that the Army patronized the LeJ during Zia’s rule and in 2008 two top LeJ leaders ”mysteriously” escaped from their high security jail inside Quetta’s Army base, an escape that was clearly orchestrated by the Army.
The conflict in Baluchistan is not widely reported on but it is a great as threat to Pakistan’s survival as the war against the Taliban is. However the complexity of the Baluchistan problem requires a separate blog post to do it justice and I will be writing about it later in the week. Suffice it to say that the conflict boils down to the Baloch rebels demanding that the Federal Government and the Pakistan Army respect their right to self governance and the right of the people of Baluchistan to exploit the vast mineral resources present in the province. A major grievance is that natural gas from Baluchistan is used to heat the houses of Pakistani’s in the main provinces of Punjab and Sindh while people in Baluchistan are left to freeze in the cold winter months.
Tragically there was bloodshed elsewhere on Bloody Thursday. In the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province there was a suicide bombing at a Mosque belonging to a popular moderate Sunni Muslim organization 22 people were killed and dozens injured. The attack highlights the fact that although Shia’s and non-Muslim minorities have been increasingly targeted by hard-line Sunni militants, the majority of violence in Pakistan is directed at other Sunni’s
And finally on Bloody Thursday 15 people were killed in Pakistan’s largest city and commercial hub, Karachi. Karachi is wracked by political, ethnic, sectarian, and criminal violence and witnessed over 2500 murders in 2012, the deadliest year in Karachi in twenty years. If Pakistan was a well governed nation then Karachi by rights would be one of the richest cities in the world; rivalling Mumbai and Dubai as a centre of trade, industry, and tourism. Instead Karachi is left as a failing city, a unruly metropolis of 20 million odd people who desperately seek their own slice of shrinking: water, food, land, educational, political, and commercial resources. Political parties maintain their own armed wings and engage in pitched battles with their rivals and the hopelessly outgunned police force, in scenes that are reminiscent of the dying days of the Wiemar Republic. In addition to maintaining their own storm-troopers political parties also run their own arson squads, torture chambers, and Bhatta (extortion) rings. Karachi is also plagued by criminal mafias of every kind and an increasing Taliban presence in the city.
All the conflicts in Pakistan are now intertwined. Refugees from Baluchistan and KP province flee the Army or the Taliban’s wrath and seek refuge in Karachi putting further strain on it’s collapsing infrastructure. These refugees in turn become easy prey for the Puppet-Masters of the land who are always in need of fresh cannon fodder. And this constant flow of people allows for easier smuggling of weapons and drugs which help fund many of the militant groups and insurgents battling the Pakistani State.
Indeed if the new government which should come into power sometime this Spring is truly serious about turning things around in Pakistan, Karachi would be a very good place to start. One final word on Bloody Thursday is that the attack on the Billiard’s hall in Quetta was merely the bloodiest in a series of attacks on places of entertainment in Pakistan. Cinemas, Theatres, Library’s, Internet Cafe’s, CD shops, and high end Restaurants have all been targeted by religious extremists. It is a sad truth that in Pakistan today there are few places left for people to gather and enjoy themselves and forget their troubles if only for a few hours.