By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On January 10, 2020, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque-cum seminary, Darul Uloom Al Sharia, in the Ghosabad area of Satellite Town in Quetta (Quetta District), the Provincial capital of Balochistan, killing at least 15 persons and injuring another 20. Those killed included the head cleric of the mosque and a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.
On January 7, 2020, two civilians were killed and another 14 were injured in a blast on McConaughey Road, close to Liaquat Bazar, in Quetta. Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Jamaatul Ahrar (JA), which itself is a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), during the first 12 days of 2020, Pakistan has recorded a total of 22 fatalities (18 civilians, three Security Force, SF, personnel, and one militant) in five incidents of killing (data till January 12, 2020). 18 of these fatalities (17 civilians and one militant) were reported from Balochistan alone.”.
Through 2019, among Pakistan’s four provinces, Balochistan accounted for the maximum number of fatalities (180), followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (130), Punjab (28), and Sindh (25). In fact, since 2016, Balochistan has maintained its top position in the number of overall fatalities among the four provinces.
However, the declining trend in overall fatalities established in Balochistan since 2014 (with an exception of 2018) continued in 2019 as well. 180 fatalities were recorded (83 civilians, 54 SF personnel, and 43 terrorists) as against 385 fatalities (234 civilians, 77 SF personnel, and 65 terrorists) recorded in 2018. Pakistan at large has registered declining fatalities since 2015.
The number of incidents of killing also declined from 70 in 2018 to 48 in 2019. The number of overall terrorism-related incidents also came down from 129 in 2018 to 72 in 2019. Major incidents and resultant fatalities declined to 28 incidents and 151 fatalities in 2019, as against at 33 incidents and 316 fatalities in 2018. Similarly, the number of suicide attacks and resultant fatalities came down from 10 and 211, respectively, in 2018, to six and 54 in 2019.
However, there were several continuing worries about the existing security situation in the Province.
The SFs:terrorists kill ratio remained in favour of the terrorists for the second consecutive year, at 1.18:1 in 2018 and 1.25:1 in 2019, indicating that the SFs have still not been able to establish satisfactory hold in the region.
Further, attacks against ‘outsiders’ remained unabated. According to the SATP database, a total of 229 ‘outsiders’, including 20 in 2019, have been killed in Balochistan since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, leader of the Bugti tribe and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), on August 26, 2006, (data till January 11, 2020). Bugti was killed in a military operation in the Chalgri area of the Bhamboor Hills in Dera Bugti District. These attacks against ‘outsiders’ were primarily carried out by Baloch insurgent groups in reaction to the ongoing disappearances and extrajudicial killings engineered by Pakistani State Forces. The Baloch insurgents believe that these outsiders, mainly Punjabis (178 of 229 ‘outsiders’ killed were Punjabis), work as spies for the SFs.
On October 26, 2019, State Director General of Police (DGP), Kamal Nayan Choubey, disclosed;
During 19-24 August 2019, HRCP conducted a fact-finding mission to assess the state of human rights in Balochistan… One of the most serious accusations against the agencies concerns their alleged role in enforced disappearances and the dumping of mutilated bodies of persons who have been ‘disappeared’. Over the years, the provincial governments and federal agencies have failed to hold any state functionaries accountable for their role in enforced disappearances and other such gross human rights violations in the province.
In its earlier report, ‘State of Human Rights 2018’, HRCP had observed,
In the 2018 list of the Baloch Human Rights Organisation (BHRO), of the 264 cases listed under extrajudicial killings, 23 were attributed to encounters, and 24 to custodial deaths. The BHRO also recorded 832 missing in their list of enforced disappearances in the province. There were many reports of enforced disappearances at the hands of security forces, with human rights defenders and activists bearing the brunt… Families had received 45 dead bodies during the period from 25 July to 30 October 2018 and as many as 5,000 people are still reportedly missing from Balochistan… In their Bi-annual Report 2018 The State of Balochistan’s Human Rights, the Baloch Human Rights Organisation and Human Rights Council of Balochistan said they had received ‘partial reports’ of 541 cases of enforced disappearances in the first half of the year. In the majority of State of Human Rights in 2018 cases ‘the persons were picked up by security forces from their homes, in front of the entire families and villagers’.
On October 22, 2019, relatives of missing Baloch people held a protest rally in Quetta to demand the immediate release of their family members who have been illegally abducted by the SFs. The protestors said that a large number of political activists and intellectuals were being abducted illegally by SFs from various parts of Balochistan.
Meanwhile, Quetta, the provincial capital, continues to remain the epicenter of violence. Out of 180 fatalities recorded in the Province, Quetta alone accounted for 60 fatalities in 2019, with Loralai coming a distant second, with 31 fatalities. Out of a total of 7,695 fatalities recorded in the Province since March 6, 2000, when SATP stated compiling data, Quetta alone has accounted for 2,550 fatalities, i.e. 33.13 per cent.
Out of 83 civilian fatalities recorded in 2019, Quetta alone accounted for 34, followed by Gwadar with 16. Since March 6, 2000, Quetta has accounted for 39.2 per cent of civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan.
In the meantime, the worst attack of the year 2019 in Pakistan, in terms of civilian fatalities, took place in Quetta, on April 12. At least 21 persons, including 19 civilians, were killed and 30 were injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion at a vegetable market in the Hazarganji vegetable market of Quetta. The target of the attack were the Hazara Shias, as the area is largely populated by them. The second worst attack also took place in Balochistan: in the intervening night of April 17 and 18, 2019, unidentified assailants shot dead at least 14 passengers after forcibly offloading them from a bus plying on the Makran Coastal Highway in the Ormara area of Gwadar District.
In terms of incidents of killing, Quetta saw 14, followed by Loralai with six. However, Loralai accounted for the maximum number of SF fatalities, 15, followed by Quetta with 12.
Indeed, Mohsin Hassan Butt, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Balochistan, on August 27, 2019, conceded that three Districts of Balochistan – Quetta, Gwadar and Lasbela – had been declared ‘A-areas’ in order to curb ‘criminal activities’, to restore peace in the areas. However, other Districts such as Loralai have been facing a surge in terrorism-related attacks on SFs.
It is Islamabad’s continuing policy of choosing between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ that is responsible for the continuing unrest in Quetta. Reports indicate that the mosque attacked on January 10, 2020, was frequently visited by Afghan Taliban leader, Mawlawi Abdul Hakeem, and the group was the main target of the IS suicide bomber. Notably, a blast inside a mosque in the Kuchlak town area of Quetta on August 16, 2019, killed four people, including the prayer leader Ahmadullah Akhundzada, the brother of Afghan Taliban ‘chief’ Hibatullah Akhundzada.
Though trends indicate that the situation in the Province has improved considerably in terms of terrorist and insurgent activity, the latest attacks are the manifestation of the reality that the necessary ingredients for terrorism continue to thrive. Balochistan is likely to face a continuing wave of violence by terrorists, insurgents and state Forces well into the foreseeable future.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management