Despite its geopolitical importance and abundant natural resources, Balochistan has been staggeringly deprived of development due to the state policy towards it. What raises concerns now is the parasitically growing religious extremism in the region. Below are the recent events that alarmingly indicate the seriousness of this threat.
Paralyzing the Education Sector
In Pakistan’s least inhabited province, successive governments have failed to ensure a considerably progressing literacy rate over the course of time. Currently, several educational institutes in Balochistan face threat of attacks from ensemble extremist groups.
In the past ruthless attacks have been carried out on education in the province. In June 2013, a female suicide bomber blew herself up in a bus carrying students of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, Quetta. Later, the sectarian extremist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack. A survivor of the deadly blast, lying in bed with a broken leg and shrapnel cuts across her face resolved, “Such incidents will never stop me from receiving education. As soon as I get better, I will go back to the university.”
In June, 2012, at least five students died, while 69 were injured when a powerful blast occurred near an IT University located in Jinnah Town, Quetta. A police officer investigating the scene revealed, “The bomb targeted the bus as it carried a majority of Shia students.”
The growing Islamic extremism in the region is evident by wall chalking in several localities and messages from extremist groups declaring co-education and learning English language “haram”. Recently, all private educational institutes in Panjgur were shut down in the aftermath of threats by a shadowy militant organization called Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan whose armed militants have attacked schools and torched vans. The children in Panjgur remained deprived of education until the institutes were reopened after the government assured them of providing protection. Presently the strength of students is minimal; how can parents dare to send their children especially daughters to schools amid continuous threats by militant outfits?
The series of attempts to paralyze the education sector in Balochistan continued when a private school was set on fire in Kech. A pamphlet left by the assailing militants warned the people that they should not send their children to schools or English language centers for learning English. It further advised parents to send their children to religious seminaries only or else get ready to face serious repercussions.
To reassuringly restore the continuity of education in the province, it is necessary to take strict action against the militants.
An outcome of the militants’ teachings unfolded when women were attacked with acid for stepping out of the four walls of their houses. Reportedly, 12 women have been separately targeted in recent province-wide acid attacks carried out by men riding motorcycles. Back in 2013, Balochistan’s government had unanimously passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill after an extremist group claimed responsibility of acid attacks on two sisters aged 11 and 13 while they were out shopping. But the recent events viciously targeting the freedom of women have raised questions on the capability of government to ensure safety to women in an already culturally patriarchal society.
The atrocious culmination of religious extremism and ethnic cleansing was witnessed when a bus carrying pilgrims belonging to the Zikri sect of Islam was blown up in Khuzdar by a remote bomb. The sect has never been targeted in a manner so malevolent before. The followers of the Zikri sect have been in jeopardy since the attack and have been targeted multiple times. It appears as if Pakistani media and authorities have neglected them altogether.
Sectarian violence is not new to Balochistan. The Shia genocide in the region continues ruthlessly despite worldwide condemnation. Two young men from the Hazara community were remorselessly killed near Sabzal Road, Quetta a day before Eid. The victims were conventionally forgotten and the killers (like usual) were never found.
The spree of religiously motivated violence in Balochistan can be traced back to the ideological propaganda encouraging jihadi groups in order to weaken Baloch nationalism (a secular movement heavily influenced by leftist Marxist ideology). This politicization of religion is eventually leading to a total disaster. Now there are several terrorist and extremist groups in Balochistan that remain a blockade in Balochistan’s way to achieving peace and prosperity. University buses have been blown up, a number of women have been defaced, different minority sects of Islam are constantly targeted, mass media has been pushed back to the intimidating confines of censorship, and religious minorities continue to be threatened to convert to Islam. Furthermore, the culprits manage to get away most of the time and the issues are reprehensibly underestimated by the national media. While the security apparatus responsible for the protection of common citizen is failing, the people of Balochistan are left asking whom to hold responsible for the lives lost to religious fanaticism and lack of accountability of the state institutions.