By Zia Ur Rehman
January 18-24, 2013
Hundreds of Shias, especially those belonging to the Hazara community, have been targeted and killed in various bomb and gun attacks in Quetta. The Shia pilgrims travelling from Balochistan to Iran and Iraq by road to perform religious rites are also key targets of sectarian militant outfits especially in the district of Mastung.
“For Shia pilgrims, it is cheapest to travel by road from Balochistan to Iran and Iraq,” said Zaffer Naqvi, a Karachi-based Shia activist who has made the journey twice.
On December 30, a car bomb attack on three buses carrying Shia pilgrims to Iran killed 19 people and injured 25 in Mastung. The buses carrying the pilgrims, most of them from Punjab and Sindh, were traveling from Quetta to Taftan under a security cover provided by the Levies force.
On September 18, a car bomb exploded when a bus carrying Shia pilgrims came close to it, killing three people and injuring nine. According to local media reports, Ghazi Haq Nawaz, spokesman of a little known militant outfit, claimed the responsibility of both the attacks. Sunni militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claims responsibility of most attacks on Hazara Shias, including the recent twin bombings.
At least 14 people, including two policemen and a woman, were killed and 30 others were injured in what is believed to be a suicide attack on a bus carrying pilgrims returning from Iran on June 28. Media reports said the attackers began chasing the bus from Mastung.
At least 32 people were killed and 85 were injured in five different attacks carried out in Mastung district in 2012, according to the annual Pakistan Security Report 2012, prepared by Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).
After the September 20, 2011 attack on a bus carrying Shia pilgrims in Mastung that left 26 dead, the Balochistan government has been providing security to the buses going to or coming from Iran, especially in Mastung area, said an official in the provincial Home Department.
Before this attack, the militants used to stop the buses, line up the passengers, checked their identity cards, and then killed only Shias pilgrims. Now, the militants use improvised explosive devices, the official said.
The 700-km journey from Quetta to Taftan takes about 12 hours of careful driving. The road passes mostly through desolated areas, especially in Mastung districts. Home department officials say that without proper anti-IED equipment and jammers, it is very difficult to stop IED attacks on the buses. The provincial government has asked the federal government several times to provide anti-IEDs equipment, they say.
Many poor Hazaras work as economic migrants. Some work in the coal mines in Much (near Quetta) and in Taftan. Others travel as far as the Iranian cities of Mashhad and Tehran looking for work.
Mastung district is the hometown and constituency of chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, whose government was suspended recently after thousands of Shias refused to bury their dead killed in a major terrorist attack on January 10, until the Balochistan government was dismissed and the army given control of Quetta.
A senior police official said Usman Saifullah Kurd, Dawood Badini and Shafiqur Rind were key suspects in sectarian attacks. Rind was arrested in 2003 from Mastung while Kurd was arrested by the CID Police in Karachi on June 22, 2006. Both fled from the Anti-Terrorist Force jail in Quetta on January 18, 2008. Rind was rearrested, but Kurd is still at large. Some analysts say Asmatullah Muavia, Punjab chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who has a strong network in South Punjab, is helping them.
According to Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the PIPS, an analysis of the geographical spread of incidents of sectarian violence from 2009 to 2012 suggests that Karachi, Quetta, Gilgit and Kurram Agency are the centers of sectarian violence.
Jan Achakzai, a senior security analyst, said the geopolitical dynamics of Balochistan were complicated, and the military was currently more focused on dealing with Baloch militants instead of sectarian groups. The provincial government was a scapegoat, he said, and it did not have the power to stop the insurgency or deal with sectarian groups, many of which were proxies of foreign governments.
Hazara elders believe the intelligence agencies are aware of the activities of banned sectarian outfits and the whereabouts of their leaders, who simply operate under new names. They say the state is either indifferent or supporting them.
The writer is a journalist and a security analyst who covers militancy in Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: zalmayzia