- Who is responsible for the bloodbath?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), has had an ISIS-K or ISK faction since January 2015 signifying the Islamic State of Khurasan, camped in an area encompassing the Af-Pak border. The faction’s first attack in Pakistan was the Safoora Chowrangi massacre of Ismailis in Karachi in May 2015.
In the three years since, ISK has found vacuums in both Afghan and Pakistani territories. A UN report said that attacks in Afghanistan attributed to the Islamic State doubled in 2017. A security report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) for the same year confirmed that the Islamic State now has a firm footprint in northern Sindh and Balochistan.
With separatist militancy, jihadist groups, Indian involvement and a military operations, all generating contrastingly haphazard forces in the province, Balochistan was always going to have a vacuum crying out to be filled, which is what the ISK has sought to do.
What his has meant is that while the rest of the country has witnessed a significant decrease in both the frequency and intensity of terror attacks, their occurrence has been on the rise in Balochistan, even if the magnitude might be on the lower side.
Another factor that has showed that there is a clear overlapping between LeJ and ISIS is the techniques deployed in many of these attacks. Roadside gun attacks have the ISIS trademark and have been deployed
However, most of the attacks in Quetta since the turn of the year have been claimed or linked to the Islamic State. Many of these have been jointly claimed by the Islamic State and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has been present in the area for over a decade and a half, beginning with its alliance with al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban post 9/11.
What has developed in the aforementioned vacuum is an understanding between LeJ and ISIS/ISK that while the former’s foot soldiers would carry out the attacks, they would use the latter’s umbrella to increase its lure and give it a global aura.
However, the fact that there is more than just the Islamic State banner in play is evident by the kind of attacks that the groups have pulled off in Quetta.
Starting with December’s bomb and gun attack that killed eight people in Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, a week before Christmas, there has been a string of attacks on the local Christian community, with its members being targeted twice in April as well, including the Easter Monday attack, wherein four members of a Christian family were gunned down.
Parallel to the targeting of the Christian community is the persistent attacks on the Shia Hazara, four of which took place in April alone. The last of these, on April 28, killing two men on the city’s Jamaluddin Afghani Road, resulted in a hunger strike by members of the Hazara community, which was only called off after army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa met the protestors in person.
A National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) report entitled Understanding the Agonies of Ethnic Hazaraz, reveals that 509 Hazaras were killed and 627 injured from January 2012 to Dec 2017. And the ISK-LeJ alliance is on a mission to persist with the bloodshed.
This is where the ideological commonalities come into play as well, considering that LeJ was founded on violent anti-Shia bigotry, while ISIS has targeted the Shia sect all over the Middle East as well. However, the persecution of the Hazaras in the region goes back half a millennium to the Mughal era, with their religio-ethnic identity being the target of ethnic cleansing for centuries, with the Islamic State being the latest of the entities calling for the genocide.
Another factor that has showed that there is a clear overlapping between LeJ and ISIS is the techniques deployed in many of these attacks. Roadside gun attacks have the ISIS trademark and have been deployed in attacks claimed by LeJ as well.
These attacks have increased since a rise in FC check-posts, prompting local Hazaras to share their concerns with the army chief regarding local military officials involvement in the latest spate of attacks, considering that the perpetrators seem to be perfectly aware of the movement of Hazara and Christian families that they target.
For Pakistan to counter this menace and ensure peace in Quetta and Balochistan, the security forces would need to accept these realities and make their intentions and operations clearer. Denying ISIS existence in Balochistan, and certain sections overlooking LeJ for political gains, is directly responsible for the bloodbath in Quetta.