Eight more people lost their lives in the killing fields of Quetta on Saturday, with gunmen brazenly barging into a laundry and shooting dead the helpless victims. This time round, the fine print informed us, the unfortunate victims were settlers caught in the crossfire of the long-simmering insurgency in Balochistan. But there have been many, many victims. Adding to the deadly cocktail of the province’s politics, the Shia Hazara community has been systematically and increasingly targeted by ruthless sectarian extremists with seeming impunity, with the attacks becoming more frequent and brazen in recent months. Many members of the community, easily identified by their appearance and often their occupations, have been forced to abandon their work-places and schools and colleges for fear of being targeted. Meanwhile, kidnappings for ransom, disappearances and a steady population exodus have become a part of life for the hapless people of the province. Forming the main context in which Balochistan has descended into anarchy over the years is the insurgency of the Baloch nationalists waging a bloody battle with the security forces.
The provincial government, meanwhile, remains corrupt and impotent, with the security forces calling the shots where it matters. Many legislators simply throw up their hands in despair when questioned about the state of affairs in their province. Despite the recent intervention of Supreme Court Chief of Pakistan, the killings and insecurity continue although there is relief among the population that at least someone in the distant power corridors of Islamabad has woken from slumber and taken notice of the seriousness of the Balochistan crisis. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s directives on missing persons have made some progress with a number of missing people returning home after the court’s ultimatums to security personnel. However, despite this, people continue to disappear without trace in the province and are often found, months later, tortured, killed and dumped at isolated roadsides. The missing persons issue has generated the most controversy of all in the province, spreading fear and fuelling hatred. Sadly, the federal government in Islamabad has been so caught up in a battle for its own survival that pressing issues like Balochistan have been all but put on the backburner. Yes, the new prime minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, paid lip service to Balochistan in his maiden speech and promised to reach out to the ‘angry Baloch.’ But this well-meaning sentiment has been expressed so often by so many leaders that it has lost all of its credibility and meaning. Without the consensus of all the political forces and a serious will to right past and present wrongs, Balochistan will continue to burn. Is anyone listening?