The violence committed by ethnic militant groups, such as the SRA, has overtaken religious violence in the province, says a police official
Adopting a past strategy of banned Baloch separatist outfits, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a proscribed Sindhi militant outfit, has intensified its attacks on people of Punjabi and Pashtun ethnicities in various parts of Sindh.
On Saturday, gunmen killed Rana Sakhawat Rajput, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader and an ethnic Punjabi, in a daylight ambush at his flour mill in the Lalu Ranuk area of the Kambar-Shahdadkot district.
Rajput had participated in the general elections from NA-203 in 2013 and 2018, and served as an elected local government representative in the past. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail also condemned his killing.
The SRA has claimed responsibility for Rajput’s murder, warning “all settlers to leave Sindh”. Rajput’s assassination is the latest in the SRA’s ongoing attacks targeting Punjabi and Pashtun residents as well as law enforcement officials in various parts of the province, particularly in Larkana Division.
In May 2020, the federal government had banned the SRA, along with two other groups — the Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) and the Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz-Arisar — for their involvement in terrorism in the province.
The concerns Last month, in a report on the law and order situation of Larkana Division that was sent to the Sindh Home Department, a security agency showed its concerns over the rise in target killings of non-Sindhis, particularly Punjabis and Pashtuns, in the region.
“The deteriorating law and order situation is begetting sporadic target killings of Punjabi and Pathan [Pashtun] settlers by anti-state anarchists,” said the letter, a copy of which is available with The News.
The report also listed the recent attacks on Punjabis and Pashtuns whose responsibility the SRA claimed. On October 5, two labourers from Punjab’s Rahim Yar Khan district were gunned down in Kambar city. On September 12, unknown gunmen killed Muhammad, a Pashtun car showroom owner, in District Dadu’s Mehar city.
On August 13, SRA militants killed Rana Tanveer at his cold drinks shop, and on August 2, Pashtun trader Syed Tajuddin in Larkana city. On June 24, gunmen killed a Pashtun cobbler in District Kambar-Shahdadkot’s Naseerabad.
“The SRA has adopted a past strategy of the Baloch Liberation Army [a banned Baloch separatist group], which used to target Punjabi teachers, barbers and labourers in Balochistan,” said a senior law enforcement official. “The ongoing crackdown has made it difficult to attack hard targets, so the group has chosen to attack soft targets, such as poor labourers of Punjabi or Pashtun origin, or rail tracks in abandoned areas.”
The violence committed by ethnic militant groups, such as the SRA, has overtaken religious violence in the province, said Counter Terrorism Department DIG Omar Shahid Hamid while addressing a news conference to launch the Red Book this June.
Last year, Sindhi separatist groups perpetrated 10 terrorist attacks across the province, including the provincial capital of Karachi, and responsibility for eight of them was claimed by the SRA alone, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2020 of the Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies.
A few years ago, Syed Asghar Shah, a leader of the Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), a Sindhi nationalist group led by Shafi Burfat, had abandoned the group after developing differences over funds, and later formed his own outfit, the SRA, according to a security official in Karachi.
In 2013, the federal government had banned the JSMM for their involvement in province-wide violence, and placed Burfat, who lives in Europe in self-exile, on its list of wanted persons. The SLA is linked with Burfat.
Threats to CPEC
The security agency also warned in its letter that the SRA has been posing threats to the security of the Chinese nationals and projects linked with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Last year, the SRA had announced becoming a part of the Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar, a conglomerate of four banned Baloch militant groups that targets CPEC projects and the security forces.
Groups representing Punjabis and Pashtuns in rural Sindh have been expressing concerns about their security after the rise in the SRA’s attacks on their respective communities’ members. “The killings of members of both communities have been occurring for the past few years, but they are not highlighted in the media,” said a leader of the Punjabi community living in the province.
“Punjabis have been living in rural Sindh since Partition. Retired armed forces personnel, especially those who served in the British Indian Army before Partition, have been given land here, and one can find hundreds of chaks [planned villages].”
Rajput was also born in Lalu Ranuk, and his father had migrated around Partition. The Punjabi community leader said that not a single person from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Sindh’s ruling party, attended the funeral of Rajput, who had been elected LG representative several times from Lalu Ranuk.
“It seems that either the PPP does not want to irritate its support base within Sindhi sub-nationalist groups or it is afraid of facing backlash from the SRA.”
After massive protests in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the killing of three Pashtun labourers in Naudero in Larkana district in February 2019, the PPP leadership had asked its Sindh minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah to go to Bajaur with the victims’ bodies. “The rise in the SRA’s attacks in rural Sindh has made the Pashtun community living in rural Sindh for decades vulnerable and insecure,” said a provincial leader of the Awami National Party.