In his less than three months in office, Prime Minister Ashraf has made countless public promises that Balochistan – dealing with its ever-growing violence and long-standing underdevelopment – is his priority. The security forces have made similar assurances of cracking down on criminal and terrorist elements in the province. The Supreme Court has also held hearing after hearing on the issue of law and order in the province, and the chief justice of Pakistan has himself gone to Quetta to review evidence and progress. And yet, despite the forces of the civilian government, the security forces, and the courts combined, the situation is far from under control. This Thursday, at least ten labourers were shot dead and four others injured by armed men just 30 kilometres from the provincial capital in Mastung district. The labourers were going about their daily business – crushing stones on the RCD Highway in the Omer Door area of Dasht, when armed men on motorcycles drove by and opened fire on them using automatic weapons.
A complete shutter down strike was called in several areas of Balochistan, including Quetta, to protest the killing for which the United Baloch Army has claimed responsibility. While the incident is just one of various episodes of violence in a volatile province, it also has to be put in the context of an ever-growing Pakhtun-Baloch divide. In recent times, Pakhtuns, one of the biggest ethnic groups in Balochistan, have begun to feel totally sidelined. The Pakhtun share in Balochistan’s political and administrative structure has become almost insignificant; the two biggest provincial offices of governorship and chief minister are held by two Baloch nawabs while the two principal administrative posts of chief secretary and police inspector general are also held by non-Pakhtuns, as are most divisional commissioners. Since Pashtun nationalists boycotted the last elections, they are also not represented in the provincial assembly as well as both houses of parliament. The Pakhtuns also feel that they are being squeezed in jobs, educational quotas and services. The growing rift has led to the Pakhtunkwa Party showing its exasperation on the streets through a public mobilisation movement, which is complicating the already volatile situation in Balochistan. The divide between these two communities is a reality that has been swept under the rug till now, but deep cleavages are beginning to show up more and more now and will undoubtedly manifest themselves in increased violence, as happened this Thursday. The longer the unrest in Balochistan is allowed to continue, the more the previously dormant and passive fault lines may become active. Balochistan needs to be saved from its own divisions – and now.