ISLAMABAD: It was mainly the failure of Balochistan administration to counter the deadly anti-Shia Hazara terrorist activities by Usman Saifullah Kurd faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the consequent reaction shown by the Hazara community that finally compelled the Centre to dismiss an already fragile Raisani government and impose the governor’s rule in the trouble-stricken province.
On the heels of the federal government’s decision to get ridof the Raisani government under Article 234 of the Constitution, some key intelligence agencies investigating the non-stop killings of Shia Hazaras in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan had informed the Centre that the ongoing reign of terror against the Shia Hazaras in Quetta and other parts of the province was being spearheaded by the Balochistan chapter of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, led by Usman Saifullah Kurd, who had escaped from a high-security Quetta Cantonment jail way back in 2008.
Launched in 1996 as a sectarian group, the LeJ today has deep links with al-Qaeda and Taliban and is considered to be the most violent anti-Shia and anti-US terrorist group operating in Pakistan.
While Usman Kurd, the operational commander of the Balochistan faction of LeJ, carries Rs2.5 million head money, his second-in-command, Dawood Badini, carries Rs2 million head money. Both Kurd and Badini were sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorist Court of Quetta on November 8, 2003 for masterminding two terrorist attacks in Quetta that killed 65 people.
Badini is the nephew of al-Qaeda’s former No. 3 Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the brother-in-law of Ramzi Yousaf, the mastermind of the first terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York 1993. Ramzi was arrested from an Islamabad guest house in 1995 and extradited to the US. While Badini was nabbed by the Sindh Rangers from Karachi on June 12, 2003, Usman Kurd was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Karachi Police from Mauripur area of Karachi on June 22, 2006.
Badini’s arrest was announced by the then Director-General Sindh Rangers Maj Gen Javed Zia at a press conference in Karachi on June 14, 2004. During subsequent interrogation, Badini, whose father Maulvi Amir Hamza was an active leader of Sipah Sahaba, had confessed to planning three major terrorist acts in Quetta in 2003 – targeting a vehicle of Balochistan police on June 8, 2003 [killing 12 policemen], dispatching a bomber to an Imambargah in Quetta on July 4, 2003 [killing 51 people] and targeting a big Ashura procession in Quetta with the help of two suicide bombers on March 2, 2004 [killing 46 Shia mourners].
On his part, Usman Kurd, s/o Muhammad Noor, had confessed during interrogations to having trained a large group of target killers and suicide bombers to step up attacks on the Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, especially in Quetta. Usman Kurd also confessed to planning dozens of suicide attacks on religious processions and imambargahs, besides having ordered the killing of professionals, police cadets and political activists, a majority of whom were Hazaras.
The sectarian attacks in Quetta had virtually been stopped following the arrest of Kurd and Badini. But quite unfortunately, both the LeJ men managed to escape under mysterious circumstances on January 18, 2008 after breaking the jail located in the high-security zone of Quetta Cantonment where no one can go without a pass.
A subsequent report by the Minority Support of Pakistan (MSP), a non-partisan NGO which is devoted to building advocacy for the minority rights, alleged that all signs of escape pointed to orchestration from the powerful groups. The reported added that the night Usman Kurd and Dawood Badin had escaped along with their third companion Shafiqur Rehman Rind [who was arrested in 2003], the Hazara guards were relieved from duty and the roster was abruptly changed by the jail bosses. While Shafiq Rind was rearrested by the Balochistan police six months later in July 2008, Usman Kurd and Dawood Badini remain at large and keep pursuing their anti-Shia Hazara agenda in Balochistan.
According to Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) Chairman Abdul Khaliq Hazara, Kurd and Badini’s escape from a high-security zone was more than enough to prove that the LeJ terrorists enjoy inside support. Khailq, whose predecessor Hussain Ali Yousafi was also killed for being a Hazara in 2009, claims that the anti-Hazara onslaught in Quetta in fact escalated following the mysterious escape of Kurd and Badini who were being tried for killing 80 plus Shia Hazaras.
Kurd and Badini were not the only LeJ leaders to have escaped from custody. Two other undertrial LeJ hit men, including a key suspect in a 2005 high-profile murder of Agha Ziauddin Rizvi, hoodwinked jail officials and made good their escape on December 13, 2012, even though they were kept in separate barracks of Cheeta sub-jail in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Intriguingly, Shakirullah Jan and Arifuddin had escaped after intoxicating the security personnel on duty despite the fact that 50 staffers of the Frontier Corps (FC) and police were guarding the prison. These escapees strengthened the lethal LeJ network in Balochistan, amidst allegations coming from the Hazara community members that Kurd group was being protected by senior Baloch tribal leaders, including the former chief minister Aslam Raisani. Those investigating the ongoing killings of Hazaras say the campaign intensified in the aftermath of May 2, 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in a US military raid in Abbottabad. Immediately after his death, a spokesman for the Kurd faction of the LeJ, Ali Sher Haidri, had threatened to avenge the killing of “Sheikh Osama bin Laden” by targeting not only government ministers and Pakistani security forces’ personnel, but also the Hazara Shias.
However, some other officials investigating the upsurge in anti-Shia Hazara incidents in Quetta say the awful trend has something to do with the release of Malik Mohammad Ishaq, a key LeJ leader.
The Shia Hazara community in Quetta had expressed concerns over Ishaq’s release amidst media reports that he had established contacts with Kurd and Badini. Ishaq’s release instantly caused sectarian tensions that were prompted by the anti-Shia sermons he had started delivering while touring parts of the Punjab, coupled with the release of a threatening letter addressed to the Shia Hazaras living in Quetta.
Circulated openly in the Shia Hazara-dominated areas of Quetta, the letter had warned the residents “either to leave Balochistan or to get prepared for more violence because the LeJ will be intensifying the ‘holy war’ against the Shia Hazaras, similar to the one waged by the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar against the Shia Hazaras in Bamiyan and Ghazni provinces of Afghanistan’. Shia Hazaras are the frequent target of attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan by sectarian/militant groups, which suspect them of aiding the US agencies in their hunt for fugitive leaders of al-Qaeda and Taliban, who are believed to be hiding in Pakistan.