The remarkable protests by the Shia community and its sympathisers may have led to a pyrrhic victory that empowers the agents of destruction
It took almost three days for thousands of Shia protesters, mostly those of Hazaras descent and their supporters from other communities, not to mention political parties across the country, to obligate the federal government to spring into action. And meet the very first demand of bereaved families: send the Nawab Raisani-led provincial government packing.
Though the province is facing a dismal security situation since a decade now, the targeting of members of Shia community, including Hazaras, has escalated in the last five years. According to statistics issued by the home department on January 3, 2013, some 2,100 lives have been lost in 3,232 incidents of violence. Out of 3,232 incidents of firing, bombing and rockets attacks, 478 incidents were aimed at killing Shias, resulting in 758 deaths in which 338 were Hazara Shias.
In another incident of violence directed at Hazara Shias, twin blasts at Alamdar Road in Quetta killed 98 people. This time, the families of the victims refused to bury their dead, braved the chilly weather and kept protesting peacefully while carrying the coffins of their relatives. They demanded for the dismissal of the provincial government, for Quetta to be handed over to the Army for security, a ban on the activities of banned sectarian outfit Sipahe Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), working with a new name Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) and action against its militant offshoot, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which had consistently been accepting responsibility for every act of violence against members of the Shia community.
To express solidarity with Quetta mourners, small and large protest demonstrations and sit-ins sprung up in almost all the major cities and towns of the country, urging the federal government to execute their demands.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Quetta, and after a long day of consultation with the coalition partners, came to the sit-in and announced the sacking of the Raisani government, imposition of governor’s raj, taking action against perpetrators by delegating Frontier Corps policing powers and asking the Quetta Corps Commander to convene the process.
Along with almost all of the major political parties, with the exception of the JUI-F, the ruling partners in Balochistan endorsed the demand for the dismissal of Raisani government. PPP leader and Chairman Public Accounts Committee Nadeem Afzal Chan, along with Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Fawad Chaudhry, Sheikh Waqas Akram and Ahmad Yar Hiraj wrote a letter to the President demanding the resignation of Nawab Aslam Raisani or his removal from office by imposing governor raj. They had also asked for the removal of Inspector General of Balochistan Police (IGP) Tariq Omar Khitab and the Balochistan Inspector General of Frontier Corps (IGFC) Major General Ubaidullah Khan Khattak.
Rana Gul Afridi, member ANP central council, defended the decision by the party central leadership to endorse the governor’s raj. He said that the though the provincial chapter of the party may have their disagreements but the governor’s rajmay not be avoided as there was no other way to address the demands of the families protesting there.
Saleem Javed, a Hazara human rights activist and political commentator says, “removal of the Raisani government will not help improve the security of Hazara Shias at large. Because he was merely a helpless spectator who could neither stop the killings nor wanted to sacrifice his government in an effort to protect them.”
The coalition government in Balochistan, which comprised of almost all the parties having representation in Balochistan, with only three members of the opposition ( 1 independant and 2 opted out of PML-Q), have opposed the dismissal of the provincial government. JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman was the only one among the party heads who spoke against the dismissal and stressed on an in-house change. JUI-F MPA and senior minister in provincial cabinet, Maulana Abdul Wasey, too, had opposed the idea. They proposed Nawab Raisani’s resignation and insisted on electing a new leader of the house.
Ainullah Shams, Raisani’s health minister questioned the imposition of governor’sraj by referring to a similar situation in rest of the country. He pointed towards numbers of deaths, nature of killings and inability of the provincial governments in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to tackle the law and order situation.
On a question about Shia killings in the last five years and the involvement of anti-Shia outfits and the recent rise in their activities in parts of Balochistan, he replied, “We are democratic people and believe in dialogue and discussion. We have always shunned violence and opposed all those outfits who want to impose their ideology through violent acts.”
“We have been penalized for not approving direct Army involvement against the alleged anti-state elements in the settled areas of the province. After the imposition of governor’s raj, now they have no obstruction in their way to pursue the unwanted elements.” He also hinted towards state complicity with various militant outfits utilised for various internal and external objectives. “Who supports armed outfits, we both know.”
Prime Minister Ashraf announced that Frontier Corps had been delegated policing powers in the province to take action against the perpetrators of the attack. The representatives of the Hazara community have expressed their disappointment over the roles granted to FC. Most of the attacks on Hazaras have taken places in areas that were entirely controlled by the FC. Such as Spini Road, which connects Hazara Town to the downtown city.
It is a known fact that the FC is exercising policing powers for years. The Express Tribune had reported a conversation between the bench and IGP Balochistan Tariq Omar Khitab during a hearing of Balochistan law & order case in the Supreme Court’s Quetta registry on the 3rd of September, 2012 as under: “Expressing concern over the recent spate of ethnic and sectarian violence in Pakistan’s largest province, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asked Khitab why the Frontier Corps had been delegated policing powers, despite being accused of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.”
Khitab maintained the police were short-staffed with at least 58 posts lying vacant in the province. “Officers are not available and that is why we are doing shoulder promotions.”
Saleem Javed agrees, “The Frontier Corps has been deployed in Quetta and surrounding areas for many years. It has always had the authority to do policing, albeit not publicly. With the public announcement of handing over policing powers to FC, the killings might decrease, in terms of number, for a couple of months.”
It must be noted that according to Supreme Court’s interim order in the Balochistan law and order case, the provincial government had lost its constitutional authority to rule the province as it has miserably failed to protect its people and their fundamental rights. During the proceedings of the above case, the Frontier Corps in Balochistan, too, was under severe criticism for their involvement in abductions and detentions of Baloch political activists under various charges as well as appearance of decomposed dead bodies of these detainees. The FC has been repeatedly accused of atrocities against the Balochs and documentary evidence have been provided to the SC of their involvement in such activities.
“Since the FC’s cavalier approach was one of the major reason of Balochistan government’s losing its authority, by packing up Raisani’s government without addressing the main problem of the FC’s highhandedness in Balochistan, the PPP may have done more disservice to the Hazara and Baloch. It was imperative to sack the IGFC along with Raisani” says Dr Mohammad Taqi, Daily Times columnist.
Baloch Nationalists parties have termed the imposition of governor’s raj a superficial change as the province was already under army control. “Although the provincial government was incompetent, governor’s rule was no solution to Balochistan’s problems.” says Akhtar Mengal chief of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal.
With the boycott of major political parties in the Baloch and Pashtun belts, the Balochistan Assembly was hardly a representative of the people of Balochistan. Its utter disregard for the miseries of the people and the overall situation in the province was an indicator of that point. Says Wajahat Masood, columnist and assistant professor at the Beaconhouse National University.
He further stated that the situation was similar to what had happened in East Pakistan when constituencies were distributed among political parties after the Awami League was opted out of the process. What General Musharraf had failed to achieve at the national level was achieved in Balochistan in 2008 general elections, forming a defunct provincial assembly.
He termed the governor’s raj as a face saving approach by the ruling coalition after they failed to drag the province out of the dismal situation. “Shia killings in Quetta were committed by the same outfits who are spreading havoc across the country, from Gilgit-Baltistan to Parachinar, KP, Fata and Karachi. It must be seen with the overall counter-terrorism and counter-radicalism strategy, which seems unlikely at the upper level.”
Also, it is feared that the security situation will likely worsen under the Governor’s rule, where the FC behemoth has been given unbridled powers. “An advisory council for the governor, including the Baloch, Pashtun and Hazara to have political oversight over the FC operation may still be possible,” says Dr Taqi.
Also the situation may have worst entailments for the upcoming elections. Baloch Nationalist Parties, who are ready to return and participate in the electoral process, are under constant pressure from the more radical factions. “An escalation in violent actions against Baloch activists will force the nationalists parties to opt out of the electoral process and bring the state-backed pliable Baloch sardars back to the house,” Dr Taqi adds.
A few months back, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan was glorified for taking on the situation in Balochistan, even a tiff and verbal exchange between the military and the judiciary was seen in that perspective; remarks by the honourable judges about FC and intelligence agencies were also appreciated. But the whole saga ended with aiming at seemingly non-existent provincial government. It seems federal government, too, has followed the same line. A gloomy security situation, killings of citizens by sectarian outfits, activities by banned outfits with new avatars, have been brushed aside with a cosmetic change and glamorising the same institutions that were considered major players in the sorry saga of Balochistan for decades.
As a friend commented, “We haven’t yet stopped from treating Balochistan like a colony.”
Ali Arqam is a Peshawar University graduate and a freelance journalist, who contributes to www.qissa-khwani.com