THE devil’s disciples have descended on Balochistan with full force this year, their evil machinations on naked display in the gory games being played within the region’s strategic depths. While an emerging Islamic State (IS) militant group has claimed responsibility for the recent assault on a police academy in Quetta, security officials believe that Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami (LJ-A) executed the carnage.

In a series of terror attacks — including the targeting of Quetta’s Civil Hospital on Aug 8, which killed at least 70 lawyers — there is increasing evidence that banned militant outfits are not only emerging with new names, but are also expanding their scope of activities from sectarian attacks to targeting state institutions in a cross-border rage.

These are ominous developments. Balochistan finds itself caught between the terrorist devils unleashed by dark elements of deep states within the region, their tentacles spreading far and wide. Our intelligence sleuths are convinced that those responsible for Quetta’s mayhem were sponsored and steered by the hostile intelligence agencies of some neighbouring countries. According to security officials investigating these attacks, local militant groups — especially Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) and its offshoot LJ-A, along with Jamaatul Ahrar — have developed a nexus with IS masterminds in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Over the last five months, Uzbek, Tajik and Afghan nationals have been inducted as part of an orchestrated terror campaign.

Let us examine the resurgence of LJ under the new brand of LJ-A. One of the deadliest sectarian militant outfits, it is affiliated with both the TTP and Al Qaeda. As part of a drive against banned outfits as stipulated in the National Action Plan, it was claimed that LJ stood completely eliminated following a police ‘encounter’ in Punjab on July 29, 2015, in which chief of the defunct outfit, Malik Ishaq, was killed along with four other key leaders. However, the lethal organisation made its presence felt when it hit back just over two weeks later when a suicide bomber targeted and killed Punjab’s home minister, Shuja Khanzada.

Balochistan has seen sectarian and militant outfits proliferate.

The LJ-A came to notice soon after 9/11 by establishing a presence in Afghanistan with assistance from the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda. It was founded by Abid Mehsud, who hailed from South Waziristan. However, it retained contact with LJ; the distinction was that one exclusively targeted Shias while the other hit security agencies and government installations. Reportedly, it was LJ-A that was responsible for kidnapping and killing two Pakistani intelligence officers. That incident is said to have resulted in the killing of Abid Mehsud in October 2010 at the behest of the then emir of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Hakeemullah Mehsud. His next in command, Yahya Afridi, was also killed with four companions in Kurram Agency. Shaukat Mehsud became the new commander. However, due to the military operation in South Waziristan, the group went underground and lay dormant for quite some time.

This year, LJ-A became active again under the fugitive Syed Safdar (alias Yousaf Khorasani) from Karachi. Suicide attacks on security forces have intensified. The militant outfit was the prime suspect in the Karachi Nishtar Park attack. It has footprints all over the targeting of Quetta’s legal community, as was evident from its spokesman’s belligerent statements blaming security agencies for targeting their commander’s family in Karachi. There were clear signs that the group was planning for bigger, more lethal attacks — and then the police academy attack occurred. Our state agencies were, yet again, caught napping.

While the devil’s disciples are known by our security agencies, it is the primary responsibility of all the state’s stakeholders to ensure that we are not mired in these games. We should instead address internal security fault lines. I agree with ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan when he asked the government to reconsider its internal and foreign policies so that similar attacks can “at least be reduced if not entirely eliminated”. He also added that “a peaceful Pakistan is impossible without a peaceful Afghanistan”. The Iranian Supreme National Security Council’s secretary also denounced the Quetta carnage as “a sign of unbridled growth of terrorism and extremism across the region”.

The helplessness of Balochistan’s government is evident from the statement given by its home secretary before a parliamentary committee: “Balochistan has become a cocktail of insurgencies, religious extremism and other criminal activities. We cannot hide that the system has failed…”

However, the remedy sought is through draconian administrative pre-1958 powers under the Frontier Crimes Regulation to combat terrorism and organised crime in the province. It would be yet another recipe for failure as the provincial administration laments its lack of legal powers in a ‘war zone’.

It is unfortunate that a sound legislative framework established by Police Order, 2002 — along with extending the writ of the state in the entire province by replacing ineffective levies with a well-trained, fully equipped police force, established in all 30 districts on Aug 14, 2007— was frittered away at the altar of expediency by tribal political chiefs and a scheming, power-hungry bureaucracy. The resultant void in the absence of a well-oiled law-enforcement machinery has seen sectarian and militant outfits proliferate in lawless regions of the vast province. Civil armed forces and military cannot be a substitute for a long-term and enduring law-enforcement framework.

Meanwhile, the police is marginalised and demoralised, with restricted jurisdiction and lack of political will to enhance its effectiveness through professional capacity-building, and expansion and allocation of resources. Its vulnerability was further exposed on proving such a soft target for the terrorists.

Merely suspending the academy’s commandant and deputies cannot absolve the provincial police command and the government of criminal negligence for failure to protect a facility that had been attacked twice before. Who is responsible for the loss of 63 precious lives and over 160 injured in this morale-sapping atrocity? One expected the provincial police chief to accept responsibility for the glaring security lapse, and the insensitivity shown in not appropriately dispatching bodies of the fallen to their final resting places. Making scapegoats of junior minions clearly erodes the leader’s moral authority.

Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being one of the 10 most lawless countries according to the World Justice Project’s 2016 Rule of Law Index. Our companions are Venezuela, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Uganda and Bolivia. Is this the hall of shame we are comfortable occupying?


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