concern over the August 8 suicide bombing at the Civil Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, European Parliament member Alberto Cirio has said it is time Islamabad is held accountable for its misdirected policies, perpetuated over the years, and is pressured into allowing international scrutiny of the pathetic plight of the indigenous population in Balochistan.
In article that he has written for eptoday.com, Cirio states that the suicide bombing in Quetta should be seen as another wakeup call for the international community to take notice of a situation created due to years of concerted government use of extremist groups as proxies against political activists, journalists and intellectuals.
“The stark choice now before the Pakistan government is either to move against all jihadi groups active on its soil, or be willing to face a blow back from those protected from such action, like that witnessed in Quetta,” he writes.
The European Parliament member warns that the situation in Balochistan is bound to worsen and the establishment will continue to look for scapegoats to explain its own misdeeds, usually pegging all blame on imaginary external conspiracies.
“The local population is already facing the brunt of terrorism, the brutal violation of human rights, the lengthing shadow of extremist Islamic groups enjoying state patronage, and poverty despite being a resource rich province,” he adds.
Cirio also threw light on the fact that the Pakistani Army, which has a sizeable presence in Balochistan, was quick to state that the attack was an attempt to undermine the security of the province and target the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-faceted project allowing China access to Gwadar Port in Baluchistan from its western province of Xinjiang.
“The CPEC has generated major resentment in Balochistan, and the Gwadar Port project is perceived as merely facilitating further exploitation of the area,” he said.
Underscoring that incidents of violence have become a way of life in Balochistan, Cirio said there were 306 incidents last year of violence, which included what were categorised as terrorist attacks, operational attacks by the security forces and armed clashes between security forces and sectarian groups.
“More than 550 people died in these incidents, a majority of which took place in Quetta, Dera Bugti, Kech and Gwadar,” he added.
The European Parliament member said Balochistan, a natural resource- rich province, has posed challenges for the Pakistani Government since 1947, with the Baloch nationalist movement demanding independence from Pakistan.
“Successive Pakistani establishments have preferred to counter secular Baloch nationalist movements by using extremist Sunni groups with roots in Punjab. Years of myopic and ultimately self-destructive policies have resulted in a lethal mix of militant groups operating in Balochistan, predominantly at the behest of the establishment,” he said.
“Global terrorist networks have found natural allies among Sunni sectarian militant networks. The Afghan Taliban has also found sanctuary here since 2002. This has given rise to a complex security situation, often beyond the control of the very establishment that created it. The National Action Plan, formulated to counter militancy and religious extremism, has been implemented selectively to target the Baloch nationalists and their sympathisers, even while allowing terrorist and sectarian groups, many of them officially banned, to expand,” he added.
He maintained that the Pakistan government continues to promote extremist groups in Balochistan, and after the massive earthquake in the Awaran region in September 2013, it denied access to international humanitarian organisations and journalists, but allowed extremist charity groups like the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (a front of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa) and the Al Khair (a front of the Jaish-e-Mohammad) to take charge of the resettlement work. These organisations, that are merely proxies of these terrorist groups, continue to have a strong-hold in the province.
Cirio said that the links between security agencies and extremist groups have also resulted in the rise of criminal syndicates, thereby further exacerbating the security situation.
He said that the Frontier Corps (FC), the lead security agency in Balochistan, has been regularly accused of involvement in smuggling and corruption. This year six senior officers, including a Lt. General who headed the FC from 2010 to 2013, were dismissed from service for corruption in Balochistan, signalling the deep roots of this nexus.
Meanwhile the systematic hard hitting policy of the Pak government against the Baloch nationalist groups has resulted in the targeting of not only genuine political activists, but also the ordinary Baloch. The number of cases of enforced disappearances, torture, and targeted killings continue to increase by leaps and bounds.
The province has become virtually a no-go area for journalists, and killing of rights activists who raise uncomfortable questions, is common.
The near total information black-out by the Pak government of the situation in Balochistan, amounts to a systematic abuse of human rights and reflects total contempt for all international human rights laws.