Growing extremism and acid attacks in Balochistan
By Yousaf Ajab Baloch
The growing extremism and alarming steps being taken by radicalised outfits are a great menace to all people in Balochistan where, once again, Baloch women are confronting acid attacks. The recent three attacks on 12 women within 10 days in Pishin, Quetta and Mastung have proved that extremists in Balochistan not only target kill the Hazaras and Zikri Baloch and forcibly shut down schools, they also burn women with acid to impose their brand of fundamentalism on Baloch society. People in Balochistan were terrified when, on July 21, four women were sprayed with acid in the outskirts of Quetta, followed by a similar attack on two girls in Mastung on July 22. The third brutal attack took place on July 29 in the Tang area of Pishin district when four assailants entered a house and sprayed six women with corrosive acid. The assailants managed to flee the crime scene and, till now, no one has been arrested. The government of Balochistan has taken the easy route: pinning the blame for these attacks on crimes of revenge and passion.
In all these incidents, the perpetrators drove motorcycles and used syringes to throw the acid. Fortunately, these 12 victims have not received serious burns but no doubt they have been hurt psychologically and it is now near impossible for them to lead normal lives in the future. Prior to the Quetta, Mastung and Pishin attacks, on April 13, 2010, two sisters were attacked in Dalbandin city of Balochistan where a religious, underground organisation claimed responsibility. Three young sisters were attacked on April 29, 2010, in Kalat city, some 150 km from the capital of Balochistan. Before the Kalat acid attack, a religious group had already warned women to wear head coverings while the responsible organisation had threatened students in private schools, English language centres and vocational institutions to give up studying and not to come out of their homes without being accompanied by a male family member.
The enforced shutdown of schools in Panjgur and Makran areas and incidents of acid attacks can never be separated because these acts are moves to radicalise Baloch society. There is intimidation by Tanzeem-ul-Islam al Furqan, a religious militant organisation that has closed down all private schools and English language centres in Panjgur district. The said organisation also attacked and burnt one of the school’s vans carrying female students and teachers on May 14 in Panjgur. These acid attacks on women in Balochistan are quite surprising because such acts differ from the history, traditions and rituals of Baloch society where women are greatly respected and such violence hardly ever happens. Gender equality and respect for women have been part of Baloch history and culture. We can find no real record of assaults on women in Baloch and Pashtun society because of tribal or family feuds.
Baloch nationalists and intellectuals allege that the patronisation of extremists is meant to weaken Baloch nationalism and the rights movement where, along with the male Baloch, the women are now also playing a leading role. Acid attacks and threats to girls to abandon education are aimed at keeping Baloch women away from the Baloch movement.
The roots of growing extremism are linked to the Afghan jihad that left a number of effects on Balochistan, due to which the province is still suffering. First of all, millions of Afghan refugees rushed to Balochistan. These Afghan ‘brothers and sisters’ from across the border introduced Balochistan to the terrible Kalashnikov and drug culture. Secondly, when the Afghan war ended, the number of fighters who were trained and sent from Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan returned with religious and sectarian passion, and they were accommodated in madrassas (seminaries) where their activism was slowly strengthened against the Shia Hazaras in Balochistan. Now the same elements are allegedly being utilised against Baloch society.
Having observed the ground realities, no doubt the allegations made by Baloch nationalist are enough to make one believe that allowing extremism to grow is one of Islamabad’s policies to appease Islamist extremists while suppressing the genuine demands of the Baloch people. This bloody approach will wreak devastation in already conflict-hit Balochistan. Using religious fundamentalists as proxies in Balochistan will create a new set of problems because acid attacks on women, closure of girls’ schools and the massacre of Zikris in Makran cannot destroy incipient nationalism. Therefore, Islamabad needs to review its policy regarding Balochistan.