World Silent As ISIS And Taliban Both Claim Responsibility For Quetta Hospital Massacre That Killed 70
NEW DELHI: Both Islamic State (ISIS) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA), a faction of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for an attack on Quetta’s Civil Hospital on Monday. The attack killed over 70 people, and took place as the body of a prominent lawyer, Bilal Anwar Kasi, shot dead earlier in the day was being brought in.
While the attack is largely absent from world headlines Tuesday morning, a state of emergency has been declared across Quetta and a high security alert has been issued in Sindh.
The attack is also significant as it provides an insight into how the Islamic State jumps at claiming responsibility for attacks it may have little to do with. “A martyr from the Islamic State detonated his explosive belt at a gathering of justice ministry employees and Pakistani policemen in...Quetta,” the Islamic State was quick to say following the attack.
In reality, however, the context of Balochistan’s troubled history and separatist movement is a far bigger factor that the role of the Islamic State. For details, see this. The fact of the matter is that the Islamic State has little to no presence in South Asia, and most attacks claimed by the group are the result of local militants with local goals and local coordination.
For instance, May last year, 43 Ismaili Shia Muslims were killed and 20 others injured as Jundullah “Soldiers of Allah” that swore allegiance to the Islamic State struck Karachi. Jundullah spokesperson Ahmed Marwat told Reuters ," These killed people were Ismaili and we consider them kafir (non-Muslim). We had four attackers. In the coming days we will attack Ismailis, Shi'ites and Christians." According to some reports, a blood-stained pamphlet was found at the scene in which the Islamic State itself had claimed responsibility.
Significantly, Jundullah claimed last November that a delegation from the Islamic State (also known as Daesh) had visited Balochistan. Marwat said then that the purpose of the visit was to see how it could work to unite Pakistani militant groups. This was just after Jundullah had announced it allegiance to Daesh.
Earlier, the provincial government of Balochistan had conveyed a confidential report to the federal government and law enforcement agencies warning of increased footprints of Daesh in Pakistan. "It has been reliably learnt that Daish has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wai Jamat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. Daish has also formed a ten-member Strategic Planning Wing," the report from the Home and Tribal Affair Department of Balochistan had said according to the Pakistani journalists.
However, the fact of the matter is that the relationship between these local groups and the parent group in Syria and Iraq remains unknown. More likely than not, these groups are acting independently, using the Islamic State label to self-aggrandize as a part of a global jihadist threat.
In short, the Islamic State label seems to be a psychological tool used by local jihadists to further their local interests. It helps them demoralise the masses, step up recruitment, exaggerate their reach, and even step up attacks against “soft targets” such as schools, hospitals and parks, which have previously remained off limits for the Taliban that is keen to project itself as a legitimate political alternative.
Local context is far more important as a factor, and the context of Balochistan is that of a politically volatile province. Lawyers have not been spared, with recent killings including Jahanzeb Alvi, a lawyer who was shot dead by unknown assailants in the Brewery road area of Quetta last week on Aug 3. In fact, Kasi had condemned the killing and announced two days boycott of court proceedings. Before that, in June, the principal of University of Balochistan's law college, Barrister Amanullah Achakzai, was shot dead by unknown persons.
The province is home to an insurgency led by ethnic Baloch separatists, and the violence in Balochistan is often sectarian in nature. A power vacuum has emerged in Balochistan, creating a potentially explosive environment in this southeastern province that borders volatile areas in Afghanistan.
The repressive measures adopted by the Pakistani government have weakened the social structures capable of containing radicalism. This is evinced by the fact that most Baloch nationalist parties began by articulating their discontent not in the demand for independence but within the legal framework of the constitution to demand more autonomy and rights. Over the years, in large part because of the repressive tactics adopted by the State, the Baloch nationalist movement has gotten more radicalised. The irony lies in the fact that the measures adopted by the Pakistani state are reinforcing the threat of ethnic nationalism whilst seeking to eliminate these separatist elements.
In addition to nationalist groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch National Movement, the National Party, the Balochistan National Party, and the Baloch Student Organisation, there has been an increase in sectarian groups in a province traditionally known for its secularism. Afghan and Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Balochistan), al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Janghvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Imamia Student Organization, and Sipah-e-Muhammad have reportedly established their presence in the province.
Analysts ascertain that the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Janghvi possibly enjoy official protection, as they continue to hold major rallies publicly in the face of a ban. There has been an expansion of operational spaces for violent sectarian groups to function within, in Pakistan nationally, and in Balochistan specifically, as the government’s capacity and perhaps even willingness to investigate, prosecute and convict those involved in violent attacks is compromised.
This lacking government capacity was the focus of a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which stated that the provincial government is “nowhere to be seen.” In fact, the government’s repressive tactics in Balochistan may be the single most contributing factor to increasing militarisation and sectarianism in the province. The “kill and dump” operations, which were designed to reinforce the power of the state, have led to widespread anger and discontent targeted at the government for abductions and killings. The exact numbers are difficult to tally, but Baloch nationalists assert that there have been “thousands” of such cases.
The International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons says 18,000 people from the region are unaccounted for, of which approximately 2000 were killed between 2001 and 2013. There are vast discrepancies in the official numbers. In 2008, Interior Minister Rehman Malik placed the figure at 1100. However, in 2011, Balochistan Home Minister Zafrullah Zehri claimed that only 55 people were missing. The discrepancy in numbers is evinced in a report documented by VBMP’s Chairman Nasrullah Baloch, where 455 bullet-riddled bodies were discovered from amongst the missing in 2014; not 164 as the provincial government claimed in a statement.
While there is contention on the numbers, there is an emerging consensus, amongst organizations including the Human Rights Watch and the HRCP, that most of these disappearances have been perpetuated by government institutions, specifically the intelligence agencies and Frontier Corps, often in conjunction with the local police.
It is important to note that the repressive measures are furthering sectarianism in a region where a resolution through dialogue and within the constitutional framework is politcally feasible. According to a survey conducted in July 2012, only 37 percent of the Baloch people favour independence, a figure even lower among Balochistan’s Pashtuns. However, 67 percent of the population wants greater autonomy. This indicates the possibility for compromise through political negotiation. The government of Pakistan has to stop treating Balochistan as a law-and-order problem; its insistence on doing so by responding to the crisis through repressive measures will only lead to an increase in the numbers favouring independence and a rise in violence in the region.
Meanwhile, even though both the Taliban and the Islamic State claimed the attack and local factors are an obvious concern, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri in his initial response hinted at the involvement of Indian intelligence agency RAW.
Zahri’s premature and fairly baseless statement is indicative of the complications inherent in Pakistan’s dealing with militancy and terror. Although the country claims that it has stopped differentiating between “good” Taliban and “bad” Taliban -- where the former refers to militancy across the borders in Afghanistan and India, specifically Kashmir, and the latter refers to militants active within Pakistan’s own borders -- the truth of the matter is that the duplicity in policy continues.
The Balochistan Chief Minister’s effort to distract the public by trying to implicate India is indicative of the continuing duplicity. The Taliban and the label that comes with the Islamic State, in the meanwhile, are benefitting from exactly that.
The people most affected by all of the above are every day civilians, including the 70 people who died in the suicide bombing on Monday.
The attack, however, has remained largely absent from world headlines. While attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Paris, Nice or Brussels saw condemnations from world leaders, front page headlines, social media displays of solidarity, and even iconic building changing colours to the flags of the countries affected -- the Quetta attack has already largely been forgotten.