In the first week of December, Balochistan’s governor and twice-elected former chief minister Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. The official convoy of the Baloch governor was attacked on the RCD National Highway when he was returning from Kalat district to the provincial capital, Quetta. While the governor narrowly escaped the bid on his life, a shadowy Baloch armed group, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), accepted responsibility for the assault on the governor’s convoy. The organization, which champions the cause of Balochistan’s separation from Pakistan through an armed movement, admitted that Magsi was the prime target for of the attack which was meant to avenge the recent killing of Baloch political workers allegedly by the security forces.
On his part, Magsi smiled and told the media that finally his name had also been enlisted among those who were martyred for the Baloch rights. On a serious note, he suspected possible collaboration of his own security team with the attackers by insisting that the latter knew the timings of the his convoy’s movement.
A week later, another failed assassination attempt shock the whole of Balochistan. This time the target was Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani. The modus operandi in the attack on Raisani was much similar to the attack on the provincial governor. The attackers tried to blow up the Raisani’s official convoy on Zarghoon Road on December 7. Nine people were injured in a mysterious blast which local authorities said was a suicidal attack.
Similar to diverse official versions, the onus for the attack on the head of the provincial government was also accepted by more than one organization. Initially, a spokesman for the underground Sunni militant group the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi accepted responsibility which was followed by another claim by a relatively new organization which identified itself as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Alami. Finally, the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), again a mysterious reclusive organization, contested the claims of the first two Islamic organizations and claimed responsibility for the attack on Raisani’s convoy. The BLUF had previously accepted responsibility for the kidnapping of UNHCR’s Quetta-based American head John Solecki and the killing of Balochistan education minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan.
Governor Magsi and CM Raisani promptly reacted in unison: “This is a civil war,” they said. Magsi went a step further warning that the attacks on his and Raisani’s convoys were going to trigger a deadly tribal war in the country’s gas-rich province. “We will use tribal force to respond to such attacks,” he threatened?
Was Balochistan truly in the brink of a civil war?
All indicators in the southwestern province in terms of improvement in the prevailing state of affairs remained negative throughout the year 2010. The province witnessed more violence, enforced disappearances, target killings, counter-killings, migration, shutter-down and wheel jam strikes, black days, boycotts and walkouts from the Balochistan Assembly and attacks on the top Baloch leaders and professionals. On the top of it, a possible expansion of US drone strikes on Baloch capital, Quetta, to dismantle secrete Quetta Shura added to an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.
Some top Baloch nationalist leaders such as Habib Jalib Baloch, central secretary general of the Balochistan National Party, Maula Baksh Dashti, a National Party central committee member and Nooruddin Mengal, a BNP central committee member, were target killed. Baloch nationalists blamed the official intelligence agencies responsible for masterminding these murders. In the wake of the local leaders’ killings, the bulk of Baloch nationalist leaders stayed out of the country seemingly for security reasons. Baloch leaders in exile include BNP president and former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood, Baloch Republic Party organizer Bramdagh Bugti, Nawab Khair Baksh Marri’s son Nawabzada Hairbayar Marri, former senator Sanaullah Baloch and ex-leader of the opposition in Balochistan Assembly Mir Kachkoli Ali Baloch.
“The outgoing year was a nightmare for Balochistan,” recalls Dr. Ishaq Baluch, the central vice president of the National Party, “the situation continues to deteriorate because the government does not have a policy to ease tensions and win the confidence of the Baloch people. Dr. Baluch’s views echoed by a similar opinion by the acting president of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Dr. Jhanzaib Jamaldini who insisted that the PPP government, both in the province as well as in the center, continued Pervez Musharraf’s policies.
“The Baloch demands have not been met by the government yet,” he says, “Instead the government is employing more violence to crush Baloch nationalist leaders.”
On December 22, Shahzain Bugti, a grandson of late Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and the provincial president of the Jamori Watan Party (JWP) was arrested by the Frontier Corps (FC) for allegedly smuggling a huge cache of arms into Quetta. The Baloch leader was detained along with 28 other personal guards and accomplices on his way back from Chaman, a Pakistan-Afghanistan border town, to Quetta. Shahzain’s father, Nawabzada Talal Akbar Bugti, termed the arrest as a major “conspiracy” and an act of political victimization of moderate Baloch leadership.
Shahzain, who has now been sent to the jail after the completion of a seven-day remand period, faces serious charges such as that of terrorism, arms smuggling, interference in the affairs of the state and several others. The arrest of the junior Bugti coincides with the timing when he had planned to return to his ancestral Dera Bugti with all the displaced Bugti tribesmen in a proposed long march scheduled for the end of this month.
“Shahzain represents the pro-Islamabad segment of Baloch politics. Unlike his cousin Bramadgh Bugti, he does not endorse the militant insurgency or the idea of an independent Balochistan,” said a veteran Quetta-based political expert, “his arrest may antagonize the moderate nationalists as was seen in the case of Nawab Bugti who was never an anti-federation leader.”
The expert added that another Baloch leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal had also been imprisoned during Pervez Musharraf’s government when he had given the call for a Balochistan-wide long march called the Lashkar-e-Balochistan.
“It seems that Islamabad is averse to long marches, rallies and all forms of political activities on the surface. Shahzain’s arrest manifests the fact that Balochistan has too little or no space at all even for peaceful and democratic struggle,” commented the political analyst.
Shahzain intends to resettle the internally displaced Bugtis who had been driven out of their homes during a military operation unleashed by Pervez Musharraf’s government. He says if he is not released at the time of the planned long march, his brother Ghoram Bugti will lead the march.
Although Islamabad had inducted the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package in November 2009 in an effort to reconcile with the Balochs and improve the situation in the province, the lack of implementation of proposals and promises even one year after the induction of the yped package has enormously contributed to piling up of more tensions between Islamabad and the disillusioned Balochs. Top among the unresolved problems is the issue of enforced disappearances of political workers and professionals hailing from different walks of life.
According to the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons (VMBP), an anti-disappearances group which comprises of the family members of those who have been whisked away reportedly by the state intelligence agencies, the government has not fulfilled its promise of recovering the missing Baloch persons.
2010 saw the rise of another alarming trend of killing of missing Baloch persons. The bullet-riddled dead bodies of political activists and professionals were found in different deserted parts of Balochistan. Some of these dead bodies showed marks of torture and bullets. A few others were thrown with warning notes by the murderers that anyone who supports the nationalists will have to face a similar fate.
Underground organizations like Baloch Musla Defai Tanzeem and Sepha-e-Shuhda-e-Balochistan have regularly been accepting responsibilities for the killings of the Baloch missing persons. These organizations tend to have an Islamic inclination. They reject the idea of nationalism and call upon the Balochs to come under the umbrella of Islamic brotherhood. In their messages issued to the media, these anti-nationalist underground groups have also billed the Baloch nationalists as Indian agents whom they vow to punish.
In an October report, the Amnesty International (AI) demanded, “the Pakistani government must investigate the torture and killings of more than 40 Baloch leaders and political activists over the past four months, Amnesty International said today. Activists, politicians and student leaders are among those who have been targeted in enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrests and cases of torture and other ill-treatment.”
On the other hand, Baloch nationalists claim around eighty workers’ dead bodies were discovered in the past four months. In a recent report published in the New York Times, it was revealed that even the US government was concerned over the growing number of disappearances of political workers in Balochistan.
The future of politics and security in the province remains murky because of a trust-deficit between the nationalists and the federal government. In the absence of an atmosphere congenial for political dialogue, violence has unfortunately become the standard form of expression in Balochistan. Experts believe the new year is likely to see more chaos and instability in the province until because of both parties, the government and armed groups, unwillingness to sit on the negotiation table to find a solution to a political issue which has claimed the lives of hundreds of people until now.