Balochistan continues to bleed

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Once again a roadside bomb explosion in trouble-torn Quetta that killed at least two police personnel, including a senior police officer, the latest in a series of attacks on police in the restive province of Balochistan. Senior officer Hamid Shakil and his driver were killed, while at least three others were wounded, in the explosion on Thursday morning, which targeted Shakil’s vehicle. The explosion took place in the heart of the provincial capital of Balochistan, which has seen a series of attacks on police personnel and others in recent days. On October 18, seven police officers were killed and 22 wounded when their vehicle was targeted in a roadside suicide bombing in the Saryab road area of Quetta. Earlier in October, five people were killed in an attack aimed at the city’s sizeable Hazara Shia Muslim community. Days earlier, a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people at a shrine in the town of Jhal Magsi, about 165km south of Quetta. Balochistan has been at the centre of attacks by both armed religious groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (also known as the Pakistani Taliban) and armed ethnic Baloch separatists fighting for independence from Pakistan. Increasingly, it has come under fire from local affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Al-Alami faction. The province has also been at the centre of much of the transport infrastructure development related to the $56bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a trade corridor linking southwestern China to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan that culminates in the Gwadar port in southern Balochistan. Sectarian terrorists and Baloch separatist fighters have often claimed responsibility for attacks on security and police personnel deployed to protect construction projects along the corridor There seems to be no respite in sight for Quetta as the city continues to witness terrorist attacks despite claims by the security forces and law enforcers that the terrorists are ‘on the run’. Police officials appear to be the prime targets of terrorists in the province for the last few months. In July, SP Mubarak Ali Shah was shot dead by unknown assailants. The provincial government should have taken preventive measures and increased security for high profile police officials especially those believed to be on the hit list of terrorists. A lack of action on the part of the provincial government has been termed by analysts as one of the reasons for consistent attacks in Quetta. The lack of coordination among the various forces responsible for law enforcement, security and intelligence gathering is also a cause for concern. Balochistan remains the most highly militarised province and yet a variety of militant groups continue to operate there. Though no particular group has yet claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, the list of the suspects features the usual suspects: ethnic or sectarian militants. It is of crucial importance that the authorities recognise the fundamental difference between these two types of militants active in the province. To fight sectarian militants, we need to implement the National Action Plan in its letter and spirit. But the ethnic militants cannot be dealt with force. Theirs is a political battle that has to do with the imbalance of powers between the centre and provinces. These concerns can, and must, be resolved through negotiations. In this regard, a recent announcement by exiled Baloch leaders of a meeting in Geneva to devise a strategy for peaceful struggle must be observed carefully. The authorities, ethnic militants and the rest of us carry this burden of history on our shoulders. We can end this conflict by recognising and addressing legitimate grievances and agreeing to a viable and equitable federal framework. Our choices today will determine how history judges us tomorrow. As a matter of fact, the violence in Quetta is also manifestation of state’s failure in the province. Quetta and the wider province have suffered violence that has ebbed and flowed too many times for the usual explanations to be tolerated. A murky security strategy in the province appears to have made accountability all but impossible. Who is responsible for the consistent lapses and why is it that the only thing that appears horribly certain in Balochistan is that more attacks will occur? The targeting of policemen is a particularly deadly terrorist tactic and it is aimed at discourage the policemen from serving in the province. Moreover, it is also not hidden from any one that India is an opponent of the CPEC and has gone to the extent of allocating big funds to sabotage the joint project of China and Pakistan. So one factor that violence is increasing in Balochistan is due to the Indian hand. There have also been attacks on Chinese workers in Balochistan as also high on Pakistan leaders and police personnel in the recent past which should have opened the eyes of the security personnel and other government agencies in Quetta to take special care of the city. It is a big failure of the authorities that violence is increasing in the province. Most probably it is the work of the Indian sponsored terrorists operating in the province. The security agencies should take it up as a challenge to uncover the militants.

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