they suspect some of these preachers of either covertly working with the Pakistani intelligence agencies to collect ground information in the areas affected by the insurgency or endeavoring to weaken the Baloch nationalist movement with radical Islam.
Baloch insurgents (locally known as Sarmachars—those who are willing to sacrifice their heads), presumably affiliated with the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.)
kidnapped, and eventually released, eight members of the Tableegi Jammat in Jao area of Awaran District. Awaran is the hometown of Dr. Allah Nazar, the suspected head of the B.L.F. and also the electoral constituency of Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo, the Deputy Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly. Obviously, Dr. Nazar has more influence and public support than Mr. Bizenjo, who gained notoriety in the media for winning his Balochistan Assembly seat with merely 500 votes.
The Tableegi Jammat is a group of Islamic preachers who come from different parts of Pakistan to preach and promote Islam among fellow Muslims who are not “sufficiently practicing” the religion. The Jammat is largely believed to be peaceful but it certainly does not denounce concepts such as Jihad against non-Muslims. Those who were kidnapped but released in Awaran by the insurgents reportedly belonged to the Khyber Pakhutnkhawa province. However, the Tableegi Jamaat is headquartered in Raiwand area of the Punjab province and is widely participated by retired army officers and personnel belonging to the Punjab province.
As reported in the media, the captors released the preachers by warning them not to come to the Baloch areas in the future because, according to the nationalists, “we are in a state of war and we cannot trust anyone.” In other words, the nationalists meant they suspect some of these preachers of either covertly working with the Pakistani intelligence agencies to collect ground information in the areas affected by the insurgency or endeavoring to weaken the Baloch nationalist movement with radical Islam.
For a long time, the Pakistani establishment has been striving to counter the Baloch nationalism with Islam. This government strategy is publicly known but it was the first time in the recent times that the nationalists and the Islamists came to such a close confrontation with each other. (There had been minor skirmishes in the past as well between the activists of the Baloch Students Organization and the clergy).
This is not an encouraging development.
The Baloch nationalists may provide their own set of reasons and justification for kidnapping and threatening the preachers but such unprovoked actions can backfire against the nationalists and only deepen their problems.
For example, Balochs are politically secular which means they do not vote for religious parties and tolerate non-Muslims in their neighborhoods. But that does not mean that majority of the people do not go to the mosque. People attend mosque as a cultural practice in order to meet their fellow citizens and inquire about their health and every day life. Since the mosque always remains a social institution in the Baloch society, it has not been used to promote violence or spread radicalism. Historically, there has been a non-interference policy between the nationalists and the mullahs at almost every stage. Even the mullah in the Baloch society does not have the influence to force a member of the society to visit the mosque or pray. So, the role of the mullah is nominal but an attack on him or his fellow preachers can result in increased support for the clergy.
In addition, we live in bad times where the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is rapidly extending its presence in Baloch areas and recruiting young boys (and girls as well). The LeJ, by no standards, is a mere anti-Shia/Hazara force. In fact, it is our version of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (T.T.P.) and it is indeed capable of turning its guns against the Baloch nationalists any time. All they await is apporval from the ‘top’.
attacks on the innocent girls of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University and the Bolan Medical College implicitly show LeJ’s cruel strategies. The LeJ may take such events as an excuse to attack Baloch nationalists and their supporters. Considering the low literacy rate among the general public, people know too little about government strategies and philosophies of nationalism and Islamism. The government can effortlessly buy the people’s sympathies by saying that the nationalists did not respect the sanctity of the mosque and the preachers.
Secondly, such developments will help the government to justify more operations in Balochistan by insisting that the nationalists are the ‘agents’ of “Hindu-India” and they are at war with Islam, which is the essence of Pakistan’s ideology. The “ideology of Pakistan” was already
assaulted in Ziarat earlier this month which has shaken the whole of Pakistan, if not most people in Balochistan.
Pakistan’s strategy of promoting religion against Baloch nationalism is a very complicated one and the nationalists have to address it very intelligently because they have very few options how to grapple with this menace. If they befriend the clergy, it would confirm Islamabad’s recent but frequent allegations that the Baloch Liberation Army (B.L.A) and the LeJ are connected to each other. The government has not provided any evidence to substantiate its claims yet.
Worse still, if the nationalists antagonize these religious groups, they will unnecessarily invite trouble for themselves from organizations like the LeJ, Jundullah (which operates on the Iranian side of the border populated by the Balochs) and the Taliban (who are headquartered in Quetta and its outskirts). Islamabad allegedly carried out the bulk of its ‘kill and dump’ operations in Balochistan with the help of local proxies such as Shafiq Mengal, a son of former pro-Musharraf Senator Naseer Mengal. The Junior Mengal draws his anti-nationalist motivations from radical Islam and he is not apologetic about his extremist views. Furthermore, such attacks will increase problems of Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch, a nationalist—but not a separatist—who faces the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (J.U.I.) as the main opposition party in the Balochistan Assembly. The J.U.I. will increase pressure on the C.M. to take action against the nationalists which will ultimately culminate in renewed confrontation between a pacifist-nationalist chief executive and the Baloch armed groups. The hardliner nationalists had already made two failed
assassination attempts on Dr. Baloch during his election campaign.
Lastly, the Baloch nationalists, who flaunt their ‘secular’ credentials, should realize that secularism does not deny the people the right to practice their religions inside their places of worship. People should not be barred from going to the mosque or participate in the Tableeg (preaching) if they wish to do so. The nationalists should repackage their message and make it so appealing to the masses that the people should snub the clergy’s message and support the secular vision and aspirations.
MALIK SIRAJ AKBAR
The Baloch Hal