Saba Imtiaz / Madeeha Ansari
The roots of violence in Balochistan can be traced to multiple sources, from political unrest, to sectarian strife, to a severe development deficit. In two parallel analyses, JI provides an insight into the triggers for conflict and separatist sentiment in the largest province in Pakistan.
Poisoned minds: Fuelling the massacre of Shias in Pakistan
By Saba Imtiaz
It was meant to be a drive to a religious pilgrimage. It ended as a bloodbath.
On September 19, 2011, 26 people were shot dead in Mastung, Baluchistan, after a bus carrying pilgrims to Iran came under fire from militants later claimed as their own by the anti-Shia sectarian group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. According to the bus driver, the pilgrims were told to step out of the bus and were shot dead after being identified as Shia. The attackers escaped, leaving behind bullet-ridden bodies – which lay unattended for an hour until locals initiated their own rescue operation – and a community in mourning, yet again.
According to a conflict monitor tracking violence in Pakistan, 179 people have been killed in sectarian attacks this year. This was not the first attack targeting the Hazara Shia community in Baluchistan – a news report estimates that at least 347 Hazaras have been killed since 1999, and that 105 had been killed in 2010[i]. Since September 2010, 395 people have been killed in 40 incidents of sectarian violence.[ii] Over a 100 people have been killed in Quetta alone, and 216 have been injured in the provincial capital and Khuzdar. Given the frequency of attacks by sectarian organisations, it would be optimistic to assume that it was the last. Four days after the massacre in Mastung, three Hazara Shias were shot dead by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants while en route to Sibi. The community was targeted again barely two weeks later on October 4, when a bus carrying 20 passengers was targeted by gunmen near Quetta. Twelve Hazara Shias were killed in the incident.
The government's response was characteristically non-committal, with one official stating that the "pilgrims should have told [the government] where they were going.” In addition, the Advocate General of Baluchistanstated that pilgrims should obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) before leaving for pilgrimage. The irony that pilgrims need an NOC to travel and militants can gun down any number of people at any given time is not lost on anyone.
That the state has failed in protecting its citizens is neither new nor ground-breaking. It is a fact of life that Pakistanis have grown used to, having lost thousands in suicide attacks, assassinations and bomb blasts. However, the fact that the state nurtures these elements and lets them turn on its own is a grave matter. Propped up by the state in the past[iii], the Sipah-e-Sahaba’s militant offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has claimed responsibility for several of the targeted attacks. On Eid-ul-Fitr, a suicide bomber from the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi killed 12 people and injured 32 as he blew up his explosives-laden car near the Eid prayer congregation. Had he reached the congregation itself, over 20,000 people would have been targeted.
The anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan was formed in 1985 by then leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. Its stated goals include declaring Shias a non-Muslim minority like Ahmadis, proscribing their processions during Moharram and imposing its version of shariah law on the state and society. Scholars have linked the rise of the SSP to the Majlis-e-Ahrar movement, which led the anti-Ahmadi agitation and riots in the 1950s and found ‘success’ when Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974. The movement became a “prototype” for the anti-Shia movement launched by Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, who wanted Shias to be declared apostates through constitutional means[iv]. Scholars also link the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan’s success and government backing to two external events – the 1979 revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. General Zia-ul-Haq, distrustful of the influence Iran could wield on Pakistani Shias, offered support tohardline Sunni organisations that now thrive in the country. A 2005 report on the state of sectarianism in Pakistan estimates that 5,000 to 6,000 Sipah-e-Sahaba activists have undergone jihadi training.[v]
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was formed in 1996, after Jhangvi was killed. Its leadership included Riaz Basra, who was himself was killed in 2002 in a police ‘encounter’,[vi] and AkramLahori, who is currently in jail. Another prominent leader, Malik Ishaq, was released from jail this August after 14 years. He was accused of killing 70 people in 44 cases, out of which, Ishaq was acquitted in 34 cases and bailed out in 10. Ironically enough, Ishaq also planned to go for religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia after recently obtaining a passport. However, his plans were deterred as he was detained under the Maintenance of Public Order act a day after the massacre in Mastung.[vii]
The case of Malik Ishaq once again raises serious questions about the state abetting militant networks. Ishaq was released from Kot Lakhpat jail in August in a hailstorm of rose petals, vivid scenes similar to those that greeted Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of the late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, at his court hearing. Following his release, Ishaq gave a number of speeches smacking of bravado. He has little reason to fear given that Punjab government has provided him with a police escort and his family a stipend, in what can only be described as a macabre welfare program for militants.
Ishaq went on an extensive speaking tour after his release, addressing crowds in Rahim Yar Khan, Lahore, Samundri and Khairpur, among other places. Footage of his rallies features him promising to continue his mission of ‘protecting the finality of the Prophethood (peace be upon him)’ and showing crowds allegedly blasphemous material to invoke them to fight for Islam.[viii] Ishaq repeatedly mentioned his pride in the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, how his release shows that he was on the guided path and that the ‘agencies’ and government are keeping an eye on him.
Law enforcement agencies had tracked Ishaq’s movements after his release, including his inflammatory speeches and meetings with people listed on the fourth schedule of the Anti Terrorism Act. Detention does not appear to have deterred Ishaq. In a message to his followers, Ishaq stated that he believes the fear of prison, bullets, handcuffs and detentions to be polytheism.
Since its creation, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been implicated in the deaths of hundreds of Shias and Iranian nationals and even tried to assassinate then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. During the October 2009 siege of the Pakistan Army headquarters[ix] in Rawalpindi, Ishaq and fellow member of the LeJ Ghulam Rasool Shah, also currently in jail, were reportedly flown in to negotiate with militants[x]. Impunity for the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi implies a level of tolerance the state cannot afford for these groups.
On November 11, 2010, Karachi’s residents living on opposite ends of the city were jolted by the impact of an explosion that leveled the Crime Investigation Department headquarters, killing 20 people and causing extensive damage to the neighbouring living quarters for police officers. The attack came a day after the police had arrested alleged Lashkar-e-Jhangvi members. Sectarian strife fuelled by the organization has had far reaching consequences on the country's psychosocial fabric. One incident among many others is from Sahiwal, Punjab, where a man had stabbed his 17 year old daughter to death. He had severe differences with his wife, the biggest contention being the wife's faith: she was Shia, while he was Sunni. Even though his family was Barelvi and believed in the tradition of pirs and mureeds, he had begun to follow the diktat of the Sipah-e-Sahaba. His distraught wife speculated that it may have been his outrage at their children following some Shia religious practices that prompted his brutal attack on their eldest daughter. It is murders like these, and massacres in Mastung, that should finally push the government to fully implement its bans on the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.[xi]
The Munir Commission Report of 1954[xii] presented an exhaustive inquiry examining the events and incitement - with complicity from elements of the state and the press - that led to the anti-Ahmadi riots of1953. The report should be made mandatory reading for government officials to understand the implications of not acting against elements that foment hatred and instigate riots; the importance of the role played by the bureaucracy, district administration and law enforcement agencies to deal with situations; and how important it is to deal with existing threats as legitimate law and order situations, before they turn into full-blown crises.
It highlights a foreboding letter written in 1951[xiii] as anti-Shia violence was beginning in Punjab. “What is happening now, seems almost a writing on the wall and God help us if we do not stop these ignorant people from cutting each other’s throat and thus bringing comfort and cheer to our enemies.” Another letter[xiv] sent by the government to deputy commissioners, which stated that while religious communities and sects were free to practice their faith, religious controversies must be discouraged and disorder follows when deputy commissioners do not take timely action. The letter asks, “Have they not allowed the people to assimilate the poison which was administered to them?”
Fifty-seven years later, it is this question that demands an answer.
[i]Najam U Din (2011, July 22) Violence against Shia Hazara community increases. Newline Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2011/07/violence-against-shia-hazara-community-increases/
[ii] (2011)Data collected by the Jinnah Institute, part of the Extremism Watch Project, to be published.
[iii] (2005, April 8) The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan.International Crisis Group. Retrieved from The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan - International Crisis Group
[iv] Kamran T (2008, August 8) Contextualizing Sectarian Militancy in Pakistan: A Case History of Jhang. Journal of Islamic Studies.Retrieved from http://jis.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/1/55.abstract
[vii]Raza O (2011, September 22) Sectarian Clashes: LeJ chief Malik Ishaq placed under house arrest. The Express Tribune. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/story/257846/lejs-malik-ishaq-put-under-house-arrest/
[ix]Hussain Z. (2010) The Scorpion’s Tail, page 163. “Investigations later revealed that the attack was a joint operation by the Taliban and elements of a number of outlawed Pakistani militant groups, such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which are dominated by militants from Punjab.”
[x]Ishaq M. (2011, August 14) Al Hurriya magazine: “I sat in the General Headquarters and refused any ‘deal’ [for my release] and made it clear that that we will be released via the courts. We will be released if the courts release us and if [they] sentence us, we will accept it.”Retrieved from http://www.mtahirashrafi.com/mag%20alhurya%20augest%202011/010-interview-malik-ishaq.gif
[xi] Imtiaz S. (2011, June 28) Cutting your daughter into pieces- for speaking up.The Express Tribune. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/story/197882/tribune-exclusive-cutting-your-daughter-into-pieces--for-speaking-up/
[xii]Government of Pakistan, Report of the Court of Inquiry constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab disturbances of 1953. Retrieved from http://www.thepersecution.org/dl/report_1953.pdf
[xiii] Ibid., 35
[xiv] Ibid., 306
Re-reading the Conflict in Balochistan
By Madeeha Ansari
In a world characterized by violence and volatility, this year’s message for International Literacy Day was “Literacy for Peace”. In Pakistan, the policy response to the idea would be lukewarm at best; despite the attention received by the “Education Emergency” earlier in the year, the national agenda is dominated by other, seemingly more immediate issues. There is little realization of the true transformative power of literacy in regions riddled with conflict and uncertainty. However, the story of KarrarHussainJaffar – the young Harvard scholar from a minority community in Balochistan– could inspire a new kind of discourse.
Within the destabilising context of political turmoil and development deficit in Balochistan, Karrar’s association with the marginalized Shi’ite Hazara community represents a real disadvantage. Hailing from a remote valley near Quetta where matriculation is a rarity, he describes his hometown as a place where “nobody wants to see the dream of higher education, because they know that it is impossible.” His personal journey from Marree Abad, to the Lahore University of Management Sciences, to the Harvard campus in Massachusetts cannot be measured in terms of distance – it is a leap across cultural, traditional and societal barriers. As he puts it, the first step was for him to overcome his reservations about English being a “colonial remnant”, and accepting it as a tool to facilitate progress. After completing his fully funded MPA and PhD in the USA, he plans to return to Balochistan to raise awareness about the importance – and possibility – of education among his people.
Karrar’s decision is based on first-hand experience of what it is to bridge the chasm between Balochistan and the rest of the world. The province stands in isolation within Pakistan itself; there is a clear disconnect between the population there and the rest of the country, particularly in the urban centres. The gap can be illustrated in terms of education; qualitative standards aside, the literacy rate in Balochistan is more than 20 per cent lower than the national average of 57 per cent. While the Balochistan government has pledged 13% of the provincial budget to the education sector, statistics mean little in the context of a province notorious for the phenomenon of “ghost schools”. Effective disbursement of funds also remains a problem – for instance, it has recently been reported that the largest school in Gwadar has not received a single rupee for maintenance and rehabilitation. This level of misgovernance and neglect is particularly dangerous given the complex political situation in the province, in which the absence of alternate narratives makes it vulnerable to forces fuelling cyclical violence.
Amid ominous talk of separatism, Balochistanhas been described by human rights organizations as “an active volcano that may erupt anytime”. The description is drawn from the examination of a history of grievances harbored by the province against the central government; festering wounds that are renewed by an increasing number of missing persons whose absence is attributed to state agencies.The strong presence of the army and the ISI in the region aims to stamp out separatist forces, only to stoke Baloch nationalism. As a result, the young Baloch nationalist views his (or her) interests to be diametrically opposed to those of Pakistan as a nation and will not concede that secession is not a viable option; that an independent Baloch state cannot be sustained by untapped natural resources and underdeveloped human resources. This mindset makes the youth of the province susceptible to the kind of violent prejudice that has triggered a rise in brutal targeted attacks against non-Baloch teachers and laborers, as well as minority communities like the Shi’ite Hazaras.
UNESCO calls education and armed conflict “the deadly spirals”, each affecting the other in multiple ways. Apart from the retarding effect of war on social development, educational institutions themselves can become nuclei for the concentration of “attitudes, beliefs and grievances that fuel violent conflict”. This is evident from the militarization of student groups in Balochistan, including the Baloch Students’ Organization. BSO members now make up an alarmingly large proportion of the “missing persons” whose cases are pending in national courts. If this is the situation regarding the more educated segment of society, it is a worrisome indicator not only of endemic conflict, but also future instability. The generation on whom it falls to build and create is instead contributing to fragmentation, and the state response is to further exacerbate the situation.
Karrar stands out as an exception not only among the youth of Balochistan, but among the youth of Pakistan. As an individual, what he will take back to his hometown is not only a nuanced understanding of the greater world, but a sense of belonging to a nation that provided him with opportunity. Expansion and improvement of the existing educational infrastructure in Balochistan is therefore a crucial means of addressing the longstanding grievances and sense of exclusion of the Balochi people. While only an outstanding few can aspire to Ivy League schooling, the right to basic, quality education cannot be limited to a privileged minority. In addition, strengthening scholarship schemes, exchange programs and links with national institutions would help bridge the gaps in communication and trust, between Balochistan and the rest of the country.
“Literacy for Peace” is not a new concept, but is one that is easily displaced by short-term political tactics. It needs to be recognized that there can be no shortcut for the permanent erasure of long-term resentment and separatist sentiment. Only by opening the channels of communication with the next generation, and providing opportunities to access equal representation, can the young Baloch be integrated as a proud citizen within the federation of Pakistan.