In late October, a group of militants opened fire on a bus, killing at least eight members of the Shia Hazara community, on the outskirts of Quetta, Balochistan. This was among the continuing series of targeted attacks against the community, as also against other ethno-sectarian minorities in the past few years in Pakistan writes Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
By Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
In late October, a group of militants opened fire on a bus, killing at least eight members of the Shia Hazara community, on the outskirts of Quetta, Balochistan. This was among the continuing series of targeted attacks against the community, as also against other ethno-sectarian minorities in the past few years in Pakistan.
In 2014 alone, there have been over 70 incidents of violence against minorities all over the country, and the death toll has crossed 200. While the government does claim to be undertaking efforts to bring the perpetrators – more often than not, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) – to justice, the increasing numbers of such attacks in the country speak of a different story.
At a time when the Pakistani military’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb to flush out militants is ongoing in the western regions of the country, in the rest of the country, especially in Balochistan, radical terrorists appear to be going about their business, unfettered. Violent attacks against minorities in Pakistan have not just increased and become more sophisticated, but have also expanded in their geographical areas of targeting.
Attacks of this nature, that were largely limited to certain areas of Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh in 2010, have now spread to all provinces in the country, and newer areas are being targeted. In the past four years, the numbers of incidents per year have fluctuated heavily depending on other security and perceived security issues: 2010 saw 57 incidents; 2011 saw 30; 2012 witnessed the worst record after 2007, at 173; 2013 saw 128, and 2014 has so far witnessed approximately 70.
This phenomenon brings us to ask which of the two – organised terrorism against the state or ethno-sectarian violence by terrorists – is the primary threat to Pakistan.
The fact that terrorist groups not just manage to, but in fact comfortably carry out these attacks and then escape without a trace even in garrison cities is telling. It is impossible that the state isn’t party to such acts; and at the least the state is turning a blind eye, if not actively partaking in the pogroms.
In that context, what happens of the very logic and motivation of the creation of the country? Pakistan was founded a Homeland State for Muslims. By that logic, any act of violence against bonafide citizens of the country should be of utmost importance for the state to address. However, if that Homeland State fails to provide shelter and, on the contrary, is complicit in non-state actors’ violent attacks on minorities, does the state lose its purpose of existence or has the state turned on itself?
Pakistan has functioned as a full-fledged country for 67 years now. In that light, the relevance of the motivations for creating the country become inconsequential, especially because the country and its citizens have evolved a national identity of their own; and it need not necessarily have much to do with the motivations for creation. The Pakistani national identity is strong enough among the people that being born either in the country, or to the heritage, suffices.
This means, while technically the state’s indifference towards the sorry state of affairs of minority communities defeats the purpose of creation of Pakistan, the national identity built up over the decades will ensure that the undoing of the said legitimacy doesn’t affect the existence of the country.
For the most part, civilians, despite ideological differences with each other’s communities, do not partake in communal violence. Attacks on minorities are carried out by anti-state elements, that ironically, appear to be in a quid pro quo deal with the state – that uses these elements as proxies as and when needed. A case in point is the overlap in the state’s efforts against the Balochi nationalist activities and the surge in anti-Shia attacks by the LeJ in Balochistan.
That the Pakistani state exercises an evidently callous attitude towards its own people by being insincere in investigating such attacks is not just disconcerting generally, but also, on a practical level, detrimental to the country.
The problem lies in that the state’s indifference means it has turned on its own people – making it a liability, and in fact, thus, a threat to the country’s existence. That is not to say that the state apparatus needs to go. What is needed is a change in the state apparatus’ attitude in its dealings with its own citizens, if it genuinely wants to ensure stability in the country. Trying to resolve domestic dissent via dirty deeds done dirt cheap is an extremely misinformed strategy, and this approach will come to become Pakistan’s foremost existential threat.
Today, these terrorist groups have a free run, banking on the fact that they won’t be apprehended. There is a need for systematic dismantling of violent groups practising anti-minority activities. The day the state decides to apprehend them by acting genuinely on Army chief General Raheel Sharif’s statement – that the real threat to Pakistan’s survival is internal and external – these groups will no longer be on the state’s leash to control.
The levels of consolidation, cross-country institutionalisation, and arms procurement these groups would have established by then, would be unprecedented, and the state will find it difficult to uproot them. In fact, these groups will intensify their activities across Pakistan, and Islamabad and Rawalpindi will not have the capacity to fight this problem simultaneously in all parts of the country.
The state needs to realise that the internal problem that needs primary attention is keeping the social fabric of the country from being desecrated. Anti-state attacks, while still an internal problem, will be easier to resolve and move on from than a gaping hole in society.
Straying from the founding principles of the country will otherwise come to become Pakistan’s Achilles Heel.
(Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy is Research Officer and Member, Editorial Board, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)