Thursday, 18 July 2013

Is Balochistan separating from Pakistan?

Recent attacks have highlighted the hatred some Baloch people now harbour towards Pakistan.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's residency in Ziarat, Balochistan, Pakistan prior to the recent attacks

Pakistan's cricket team lost all of its matches in the recent Champions Trophy in England. On June 15 Pakistan played its last match against India. Even though Pakistan had no chance of advancing into the next round and India had won both of its previous matches, there was still hope inside a lot of Pakistani fans that as long as their team beat rivals India, all else could be forgiven.

For the first time I can remember, I didn’t watch a single moment of the Pakistan/India match. I didn’t feel an iota of excitement, didn’t care what the score was or who was winning. Instead my television screen was filled with carnage from a province of Pakistan about which most Pakistanis themselves are pretty ignorant.

The first news that shook the nation was the burning of a building in Ziarat, Balochistan. Why so much shock on the destruction of a building? It wasn’t just any ordinary building. In fact, it was the last resting place of Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. During the final days of his life, as Jinnah was suffering from TB and his health was deteriorating, doctors advised him to stay at the calm and beautiful place of Ziarat. Hence this building had a huge symbolic importance for many Pakistanis. Along with the building, a lot of historical photographs, furniture and other important items that were used by Jinnah were also destroyed. The Baloch Liberation Army, which is an insurgent group and a terrorist organisation - according to Pakistani authorities - claimed responsibility for the attack. They not only destroyed the building but also removed the Pakistani flag and installed a flag representing independent Balochistan in its place.

The Baloch people have genuine grievances against the state of Pakistan and leader after leader have not only failed them, but have also unleashed ill-planned military operations in the province which have resulted in a lot of civilian casualties. Along with that, the constant kill and dump operations and missing persons cases which Baloch nationalists blame on Pakistan’s intelligence service are ongoing. Balochistan is the most underdeveloped province of Pakistan despite being rich in natural resources. Employment and education opportunities are scarce. Hence, this attack is seen by a lot of people as a reminder of the hatred some Baloch people now have towards the state of Pakistan. By attacking the residency of its founder, they are attacking the idea of being part of this federation.

The same day, another horrific incident took place. First a bus carrying female students of Sardar Bahadur Khan University was attacked by a suicide bomber and after that, the hospital the injured were being treated at was also attacked by bombers and gunmen. The carnage resulted in the death of at least 25 people. The sectarian outfit, Lashker-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the attack as revenge for an operation that security forces conducted against it a while ago and have also issued more threats, particularly against the Shias sect of Balochistan as they consider them non-Muslims and hence, worthy of killing.

What these incidents showed was a country desperately searching for its identity while being lost in the ethnic and sectarian violence that is ravaging it. The first attack showed the sheer helplessness of Pakistani people; if you cannot even protect the residence of the person who gave you this country, would you be able to protect the country itself? It also showed how decades of injustices and inequalities have driven people to the extreme of asking for separation from the state which they now see as a colonial occupier.  

The history of religion being used by the state and its tactics of using ideological groups to further its own policies in the region have come back to haunt it. Yet few seem to realise the depth of the problem, especially those who are actually the vanguard of these policy - the military and intelligence establishment. It seems as if the state has actually surrendered to these sectarian and religious extremist organisations. Some argue that it is because a segment of law enforcement might be sympathetic to their ideals. Others say that they might have been useful at one point (for example, fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan or fighting Baloch nationalist) and as a result, their side business of butchering Pakistanis along sectarian lines can be conveniently ignored. As long as the state differentiates between good and bad extremists without realising that sooner or later, all will destroy Pakistan in a similar manner, change is not likely to occur and unfortunately, we can expect more attacks in the coming months. Along with the state however, it is also a failure on part of religious scholars who still shy away from openly and apologetically condemning sectarianism and violence in the name of religion, which only increases confusion in the society as opposed to making people understand the severity of the situation. You might be silent today because your sect is safe, but this fire will engulf everyone sooner or later.

A country with the seventh largest military and the fastest growing nuclear arsenal cannot provide basic security to its own citizens. Time to reflect on priorities, isn’t it? Otherwise, along with the burnt building of Ziarat and burnt bodies of Shia Hazara students, Pakistan will also be lost in the ashes of history as a burnt country that was engulfed in the fire of hate.  @aden1990

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