Spiral Into Chaos By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

HISTORICALLY speaking, Balochistan in general and the Baloch community in particular are secular. Even in traditional Baloch society, the mullah is not a revered figure. Instead, he is merely a functional figure. But this is now changing.

HISTORICALLY speaking, Balochistan in general and the Baloch community in particular are secular. Even in traditional Baloch society, the mullah is not a revered figure. Instead, he is merely a functional figure. But this is now changing.

There are two dominant forces in the province: the state and the Baloch. The perennial conflict between these two has had dire consequences. Extremism is one of them. During the Afghan war, money was pumped into Balochistan, especially central Baloc­histan, which led to a breakdown of the social fabric. Before, the Baloch were not aware of differences between Shia and Sunni. Today, they are divided on the basis of sect and creed. Wahabism was alien to Balochistan but, largely through preaching activities, it is influencing increasing numbers of people, especially the youth.

While the seeds of extremism in Balochistan were sown during Gen Ziaul Haq’s time, they birthed different forms of extremism in the post Zia-period. Adherents of the Zikri sect, largely settled in Makran, became a target of religious fundamentalists. The Baloch progressive leader Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, whose tribe comprises many Zikris, began to offer prayers during the last years of his life because he feared being labelled Zikri if he did not do so, although he did not belong to the sect.

Then there is the mushroom growth of madressahs and tableeghi activities, which are an extension of religious extremism in the province. This is very dangerous because Balochistan’s population is far smaller than that of the other provinces.

Moreover, communities in Balochistan are disconnected from one another, so much so that development in the society happens at a slow pace. With religious extremism having taken root, people are expected to be more and more compartmentalised. Each and every group’s mosques and followers in the near future will be further compartmentalised. This will inhibit Baloch nationalism, liberalism and social development. In a nutshell, the mindset in the province is becoming stunted, aggressive and intolerant.
This explains extremist attacks against civilians, state installations and security forces. Although sectarianism is not native to Balochistan, today there is not a single district where sectarian groups do not have at least a symbolic presence. Moreover, sectarian groups have also made inroads into some bordering areas of Sindh where Sufism has traditionally held sway, and many sectarian attacks in that province are said to have been planned from Balochistan.

The banned Baloch separatist outfits, reportedly weakened, have been losing ground to sectarian groups. For example, Mastung district, once an epicentre of Baloch separatists, has to some extent been taken over by sectarian groups who are organising themselves under the platform of the militant Islamic State group. The recent killing of 12 IS militants by security forces in Mastung is evidence of this development.

There are two reasons for sectarian groups to have successfully put down roots in Balochistan. Firstly, unlike in the past, political activities in the province have dwindled drastically because of the crackdown on separatist groups that has driven them underground. A space thus opened up for sectarian groups – not least by the involvement of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat in political activities in Quetta and elsewhere in the province.

Secondly, in the 1990s, when Punjab police began ruthlessly targeting sectarian elements in Punjab, many of them fled to Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan where they went into hibernation, only to emerge later as a powerful force. Their resurgence was marked by horrific murders of Hazara Shias in the province. Incidentally, the perception that the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is a Pakhtun phenomenon, is incorrect: the LJ is predominantly a Baloch phenomenon.

In the past, it was in the secular nature of Baloch society to safeguard minorities’ rights. With the introduction of the madressah culture, this is also changing. Religious minorities have also been kidnapped for ransom by extremist groups. And if their family members failed to pay the ransom, they have also been killed.

Baloch nationalist parties, including the Balochistan National Party-Mengal and National Party, claim to be on one page when it comes to extremist forces. However, it does not seem they can counter them, because Baloch political parties, much like mainstream political parties, revolve around personalities and a few families.

Balochistan’s huge black economy is also a source of funds for extremist outfits. If unchecked by the state, religious extremism in Balochistan can overtake Baloch nationalism, and that will have terrible repercussions. For the extremist groups can pose an even bigger threat to the state because of their transnational agendas.

The writer is a member of staff.


Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button