How long can the nation ignore Balochistan’s terrorism problem?
The suicide blast on January 10, claimed 15 lives in Quetta. It left 21 others – mostly Afghan nationals – injured and was the third incident of its kind taking place on the outskirts of the provincial capital, in eight months. They were, all carried out on Friday and targetted leaders and supporters of Tehrik-i-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA).
The first of these incidents had happened on May 24, 2019, at Rahmania mosque on the premises of a madrassa in Pashtoonabad area when an improvised explosive device (IED) planted at the minbar (pulpit) went off a few minutes ahead of Juma prayers. Three people were killed and 19 others injured, including the prayer leader and his two sons. Later the pesh-imam, Mullah Hassan, said to be an active supporter of the TTA, succumbed to his injuries in a Karachi hospital.
The second IED attack, followed in similar manner, on August 16, 2019, killing Hafiz Ahmadullah, the brother of TTA leader Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzada. The incident took place at a mosque called Khair-ul-Madaris located in Kuchlak, another area dominated by Afghan population in the outskirts of Quetta, on the main Quetta-Chaman highway.
The seminary and the mosque were being managed by Haibatullah Akhunzada, the Taliban leader till his nomination as successor to Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Mullah Akhtar killed in a US drone attack in May 2016 in Noshki district. Akhunzada had then appointed his brother Ahmadullah as the new administrator of the seminary. A report says that TTA leader Akhunzada and his colleagues were the main target as the attackers had information about a gathering of Taliban Shura members. While he survived, his two sons were injured and his brother died.
The third attack in the series came on January10, 2020. It targeted on a Taliban leader, Maulna Abdul Hakeem, the administrator and prayer leader of Darr-ul-Uloom Shariah, who killed alongside his brother. His son was amongst the 21 injured. The investigators say that there were reports about the gathering of some TTA leaders in the seminary and a suicide-bomber was sent to target them. The police say that after the suicide-blast during evening prayers, the people from the seminary surrounded the site and didn’t allow anyone to enter the mosque. They took away two bodies before police and security agencies’ personnel arrived. Police were later allowed to inspect the bodies identified as Shiekh Hakeemullah, the prayer leader, and his brother. Taliban sources said that the Shiekh had served as the chief justice during the Taliban regime. Police said, DSP Amanullah who had lived in the neighbourhood, was not the target but happened to be among the worshipers. Although Taliban spokesman Zabih-ullah-Mujahid denied that any Taliban leader had been killed or injured in the blast, other Taliban sources said that Shiekh Hakeemullah and his brother, both TTA supporters were among the dead.
Although police and security organisations deny the presence of IS in Balochistan, the wall-chalking in favour of Daesh and its leader Baghdadi, close to Governor House, CM Secretariat, and Iranian consulate some six years ago cannot be ignored.
Islamic State (IS) while claiming responsibility on its website, said that martyrdom seeker (suicide bomber) Abu Jarrah Al-Balochi had detonated his explosive belt in the gathering of the apostate Taliban Movement killing 20 and injuring 40 others. After the two previous attacks, no one had claimed responsibility.
Although police and security organisations have denied the presence of IS in Balochistan, wall-chalking in favour of Daesh and its leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi to Governor’s House and Chief Minister’s Secretariat as well as Iranian consulate some six years ago cannot be ignored. The government would get these walls white-washed but the slogans kept reappearing.
A letter from the Interior Ministry in 2013, warned the Balochistan government about the possibility of IS activists organising in the province and advised strict-alert particularly in the interior parts of the province. Despite the formal denial, a number of operations have been conducted by police and security agencies, who claim that more than 40 Islamic State militants, including a Baloch commander, have been killed. A Chinese couple preaching Christianity was abducted from Quetta for ransom by IS activists in May 2017. Both were slaughtered after a major operation was launched against the gang. 12 IS activists including two local commanders were killed three weeks after the couple’s abduction in a cave in Koh-e-Maran in Mastung district. Later in another operation in May 2019, in Qabo area of same district, 9 IS activists were killed while in September, 2019, 6 IS activists including a woman and a local commander were killed in government-owned Labour Colony in Quetta. Besides these some two dozen IS operatives were killed in various actions over the past 8 years. Apart from attacks on police and security agency’s personnel, IS also claimed a major suicide attack on a gathering of lawyers in August, 2017 in which 58 lawyers and 12 others were and more than 100 people were injfured.
The police say that extremist organizations like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) Lashkar-i-Jhangvi-Alami (LJ-A) and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and even IS – which has been involved in attacks against Pakistani security forces and police – assist one another in their actions. However, they say, it is yet to be determined whether the IS group which has claimed responsibility for the January 10 attack, has any link with these terror groups or not.
The security forces’ officials are more certain about the involvement of Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Indian RAW in the attacks against the supporters and activists of TTA in Quetta. They say that the NDS and the RAW handlers have assigned a breakaway group of TTA which identifies itself as Daesh with targeting TTA leaders in Balochistan to compel the Taliban to halt their deadly attacks in Afghanistan.
Abdur Razzak Cheema, the Quetta DIG, says out of 618 mosques around 100 are provided full security by the police in the provincial capital. The rest are gauarded by volunteers. Whereas, 40 such mosques — including the one targeted in the January 10 incident — are protected through patrolling by 1,500 personnel in the area on Fridays.
The writer is a journalist based in Quetta