A place with one certainty – death!
Police remain outdated in their ability to avert terror attacks, despite being a major target of these attacks. Following the October 18 Quetta incident, a forensic team from Lahore was reportedly asked to go to Quetta to help in collecting the evidence. Ironically, Quetta lacks its own forensic team, which it is in dire need of
Sanctuaries since the time of Ziaul Haq have been left untouched and they have their fair share in making Quetta a living hell
Quetta’s wounds were opened once again this October as the city was targeted at least four times, with three attacks on police officials and one on the Hazara community.
Continued violence in the valley has raised questions about the effectiveness of the security machinery in a city known to be frequently targeted by militants, despite a large presence of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) since long before Zarb-e-Azb and Rudd-ul-Fasaad.
Balochistan, especially Quetta, has also been plagued by a number of human rights and security problems like missing persons issue, human rights violations, and a tug of war between Baloch nationalists and military.
Even though the city is brimming with Frontier Corps (FC) and police, random body searches are routine and armoured vehicles can be seen stationed outside government installments, the incidence of terrorism – including suicide attacks, roadside blasts and targeted killings – remains high. Lately, the prime target seems to have shifted from minority Shi’a, especially Hazara, community to security personnel, especially police officers.
The relative lack of progress in Quetta has led to frequent finger-pointing towards the handling of its security. A small city by Pakistan’s standards, with a modest population (approximately one million, according to official census) and deployment of a massive force, is struggling to keep a lid on the security situation, with mixed results at best.
Some critics blame the lack of progress on alleged collusion between pockets of the security machinery and militant groups. This can be corroborated with Mohammad Hanif’s article last week in Dawn, where he quotes a former FC official of Hazara community as saying: “Every time Hazaras got killed, FC went after Baloch insurgents rather than targeting the actual culprits…after every major incident, we raided villages and rounded up dozens of Baloch youth who clearly had no hand in these attacks.”
However, a security official, speaking to DNA on condition of anonymity, categorically rejected any links between state agencies and banned sectarian outfits operating in the region.
“Neither the government nor the security forces have any links with militants,” he said. “Their sympathisers are among a certain breed of politicians who actually create such propaganda.”
Security of Quetta
Quetta’s deteriorating security is often blamed on the porous Afghan border, which lies alongside the Pakistan-Iran border. However, the 128 kilometres (over two-hour drive) from Chaman to Quetta is monitored through various check posts along the road and the city’s entry points. Yet militants manage to enter the city and keep their supply lines intact, which is obvious by the recent surge in terror attacks. So far this year has seen over 30 attacks.
“The military has established a four-tier security cordon around the city, which militants routinely manage to breach,” said Siddique Baloch, veteran journalist and former president of the Balochistan Newspaper Editors Council.
“These are not rag-tag militants, they are qualified and intelligent hence they are able to circumvent the security apparatus.”
Security forces on the other hand, he said, have not upgraded their approach.
Police remain outdated in their ability to avert terror attacks, despite being a major target of these attacks. Following the October 18 Quetta incident, a forensic team from Lahore was reportedly asked to go to Quetta to help in collecting the evidence. Ironically, Quetta lacks its own forensic team, which it is in dire need of.
Baloch lamented the ill-equipped police, saying we are being ignored as if “we live in a jungle.”
Repeated attacks have also stoked criticism of an intelligence failure. The security official DNA talked to said that “despite timely intel, and forwarding to relevant government authorities, it is not always possible pinpoint and intercept these attacks.
Security forces cannot protect every corner and street of the city, he said, adding “all we can do is inform the government that a threat is imminent and you have to be on your toes.”
Baloch also pointed out that no measures were taken to control the “rise in illegal population living in and around Quetta—over 1.5 million”, nor did the government put any check and balances on unregistered vehicles—easily used to supply bomb parts, etc.
Banned outfits or foreign agencies?
The Balochistan government and military put the blame of sabotaging Quetta on foreign intelligence agencies and Baloch nationalists, while civil society has repeatedly raised voices against the state’s tolerance of, if not actual support to, sectarian outfits in the province.
“Sanctuaries since the time of Ziaul Haq have been left untouched and they have their fair share in making Quetta a living hell,” said Baloch.
Yet LEAs point their finger in a different direction altogether.
“The recent surge in Quetta violence is attributed to RAW and NDS, who have spread their tentacles in the province to sabotage CPEC,” said the security official.
He said Baloch nationalist outfits too are operating under the ambit of these agencies and over the last two years there was a huge investment to disrupt the peace of Balochistan.
However, that does not explain the matter of the Afghan Taliban, who have been living in and around Quetta for years, especially Pashtunabad and Khuchlak areas. Regardless of the west’s pressure and Pakistan’s constant promises of nipping the evil in the bud, they thrive.
Despite repeated attempts DNA was unable to reach Balochistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti and officials of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR).
Meanwhile there is only once certainty, at least in the immediate term, for Quetta. Blood will continue to flow, people will die and more often than not the faces of the executioners will remain hidden; the only witnesses being the valley’s silent, desolate mountains.