Nationalism, religion a deadly mix in Balochistan

The attack on the Hazara Shia community hall in Quetta has finally shocked the Pakistani state into taking action against the slaughter of that community in Balochistan.

Haji Abdul Qayyum Changezi, a senior community leader, described it best on Sunday. “Our people are being massacred — 1,100 have been murdered in the last five years,” he said while speaking in a televised meeting with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

“That’s out of a total population of 500,000 — a rate unprecedented anywhere in Pakistan.” While women and children have been killed, the high risk age group remains young males. Increasingly, the Hazara youth prefer to choose the life of the illegal immigrant. Certain death awaits them at home.Nationalism All Hazaras fear that they could be the next target of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. For Pakistan’s deadliest militant group’s Baloch incarnation — they are the ideal target on both ethnic and religious basis. It’s an incarnation that not only runs things in Balochistan but also in the rest of the country — but with Asif Baloch alias Chotu being appointed supreme Amir. The LeJ’s story is well-known — created in form of the Sipah-e-Sahaba in the mid eighties by militants and extremist demagogues by harnessing rising anti-Shia feeling in the Punjab. While the province has remained home base, the LeJ has slowly but surely spread its tentacles across the country. Its sectarian poison also found a fertile ground in the soil that was prepared post 9/11. Balochistan — by way of Karachi and southern Punjab — proved to be the best place for its plantation.The work on Balochistan began in the late nineties when a few LeJ militants came to Quetta on their way to Kandahar. At that time, the LeJ was a favoured guest of the Afghan Taliban. But Balochistan was largely a bastion of secular ideologies, something that may have attracted their attention. Since then the province saw a proliferation of spending by religious groups in the late nineties.

While most concentrated on charity and general Islamic education, the Sipah-e-Sahaba remained true to its goals of Shia antagonism. But to gain currency in the province it had to work on the local population. As such the work was started concentrating in the main towns — Quetta, Khuzdar and Turbat. Initially, there were few takers amongst the historically secular Baloch community. But with state support and unlimited funds from the Gulf Arab states seeking to counter Iran’s perceived influence the movement grew. Today, some of the largest madressahs and mosques maintained by the Sipah-e-Sahaba and other groups like the Jamaatud Dawa are found in Balochistan. Experts point to these as the basis for the emergence of a new Baloch youth — religious, Sunni and militant. All these characteristics may well have set an inevitable clash with the local Shia community, but this was confirmed after state security agencies cashed into this scheme. With the growth of nationalist fervour in the province, the old card of religion was seen as being ideal to counter it. The SSP/LeJ/TTP combine had already been hard at work establishing itself here. Men like Gul Hasan (of Hyderi Mosque bombing fame) and Asif Baloch alias Chotu had initiated a new breed of militant here whose ferocity was unmatched elsewhere in Pakistan. Enter groups like the pro-Pakistan Baloch groups such as the Baloch Musalah Difaa Tanzeem for whom the nationalist and the Shia are both fair game. That organisation; which professes to have attacked what it calls anti-state elements, is now regarded as the main de facto cell of the LeJ in Balochistan. Others have also mushroomed since then — with increasing numbers of Brahui and Baloch tribesmen joining in. The main base is Mastung located in the heart of territory controlled by the Raisani tribe. Most of the major attacks on the Hazaras have taken place here — despite the fact the tribal chief is Sardar Aslam Raisani — till recently the chief minister of Balochistan. Hazara leaders say LeJ militants like Ramzan Mengal and Usman ‘Saifullah’ Kurd serve as bodyguards for PPP provincial ministers. They also complain openly and talk of links with security forces; both men escaped from a maximum security prison in Quetta Cantonment.

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