A province on edge
WHILE acts of violence continue to plague Balochistan, officialdom seems bent on denying the fact that a major problem exists. At least 18 people were killed in the ensuing blaze when gunmen attacked a bus at a fuel station outside Khuzdar on Friday. Initial police reports suggest personal enmity triggered the attack, with the fuel pump as the target. Aside from the latest tragedy Khuzdar has been on edge for the past several weeks; last month two sons of a local journalist were shot at — one of them died — while a journalist was gunned down in September. Balochistan overall suffers from rampant lawlessness, with murders, kidnappings and enforced disappearances being common. What is ironic is that the bus attack in Khuzdar occurred on the same day the government was defending its record on Balochistan during a Supreme Court hearing on law and order in the province. An interior ministry report cited at Friday’s hearing suggested that the violence in Balochistan was a “limited local issue” concerning some “so-called nationalists” and that the provincial government had not failed. These observations, echoed by the interior minister in the apex court, would be laughable had the matter not been so serious.
The violence in Balochistan is complex and involves many actors. There have been sectarian and ethnic attacks, law-enforcement personnel have been targeted while extrajudicial killings of Baloch political activists have been reported in the province. The security apparatus (said to target Baloch political workers and separatists), sectarian groups (who have claimed attacks targeting mostly Hazara Shias) and nationalist militants (believed to target non-Baloch citizens, security personnel and pro-government individuals) all appear to be involved. In such circumstances, claiming that law and order in Balochistan has not collapsed is self-delusional. As a first step, the federal and provincial governments need to stop pretending that all is well in the province and face the facts. While the state is responsible for maintaining order, Baloch nationalists also need to clearly condemn ethnic and sectarian violence. Balochistan’s problems must be handled on several fronts, foremost of which are addressing the grievances of the people and establishing the rule of law.