Dawn Editorial 5 January 2021

Hazara miners’ slaughter

HORROR has revisited the beleaguered Shia Hazara community once again. Early Sunday morning, 11 coal miners, all residents of Quetta’s Hazara Town, were barbarically slain in Balochistan’s mountainous Bolan district in an attack claimed by the militant Islamic State group. The men were apparently asleep in their mudbrick dwelling close by the mine that they worked when the assailants burst in, held them at gunpoint, and bound and blindfolded them.
Then, in an orgy of bestial violence, they slit the victims’ throats. Some bodies also bore gunshot wounds. Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the massacre as “yet another cowardly inhumane act of terrorism” and ordered the Frontier Corps to apprehend the killers. Further, he assured the victims’ families that the government would not abandon them.
No doubt Mr Khan’s words are well-intentioned. The bitter reality, however, is that the state has long abandoned the Shia Hazaras. In a cynically calculated move, it decided to turn a blind eye to violent extremists’ depredations against the community in the province as long as these murderous groups also served to counter the Baloch insurgency that began during Gen Musharraf’s regime. As a result, nowhere in Balochistan are the Hazaras safe, except for their barricaded ghettoes in Quetta. They have been blown up in suicide bombings and gunned down in the streets, their graveyards filling up with victims, many of them heartbreakingly young. On the cusp of life, these innocents paid the ultimate price for the state’s monumental folly. As for the survivors, their livelihoods, educational opportunities, etc have been eviscerated. Those who can have sought asylum overseas.
While large-scale attacks like those in the first half of 2013 — that together massacred over 200 Hazaras and left more than 500 wounded — have not recurred, mainly because the community has isolated itself within two secure enclaves, they remain in peril. In April 2019, at least 20 people — including 10 Hazaras — were killed in a Quetta marketplace suicide bombing. The attack, which was aimed at the Shias, was also claimed by the IS. It is well known that the virulently sectarian Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, which has a continued presence in Balochistan, works closely with the transnational terrorist group. Surely, in a province crawling with security and intelligence personnel, violent extremists such as these should not be difficult to track down.
They could also be traced through the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which also has an overtly anti-Shia agenda. But when one considers that the head of the ASWJ’s Balochistan chapter, Ramzan Mengal, was released from prison — only two days before the marketplace bombing — and allowed to contest the 2018 general election, it becomes clear that there are wheels within wheels here. Certainly, there may be some truth to claims being made that those who slaughtered the coal miners last Sunday are foreign-funded, but the whole truth is far more nuanced.



Afghan bloodshed

AS the Afghan government and the Taliban sit down for parleys in Doha today, deadly violence in the country over the past few months has cast its shadow over the process. Since November, a number of officials, activists and journalists have been killed in targeted hits. This ugly trend is of course part of the overall cycle of violence that plagues Afghanistan, pitting the government against the Taliban and other militant groups such as the local branch of IS. Among the high-profile victims of the latest series of killings has been the deputy governor of Kabul as well as five journalists. Strangely, the Afghan peace process has been marked by the dichotomy of violence coupled with talk — with ceasefires often punctured by fighting. However, considering the complexity of the Afghan situation, particularly the bloodshed that has affected Afghan national life for decades, there is no other option but for the stakeholders to sit at the negotiating table and work out a doable peace plan. However, there must be some red lines, such as the protection of fundamental rights, specifically the safety of those that are critical of the government or armed groups.
Though no groups have claimed responsibility, it appears that the latest string of killings is an attempt by armed outfits to eliminate critical, independent voices, and send a message to others to keep quiet. As the government and the Taliban restart the dialogue process, Kabul should make it clear that such murderous attacks will not be tolerated. Afghan rights activists have expressed fears that there may be a rollback of rights and freedoms, particularly women’s rights, if a peace deal is reached with the Taliban. Of course, the era when the armed group ruled over the country was one where women became practically invisible on the national scene. It would be shameful if attempts were made to reimpose such restrictions on women. Indeed, reaching a workable peace deal will not be easy; an Afghan government negotiator has said, with reference to the Doha process, that talks will be “complicated and time-consuming”. However, all sides must realise that if this window of opportunity is lost, no one knows when the next chance will arise to end the deadly cycle of violence in Afghanistan. What is more, a final settlement must ensure equal rights for all of the country’s tribes and ethnic groups, as well as women and minorities.



Petrol smuggling

THE government wants to put a stop to the widespread smuggling of cheap, low quality Iranian petrol and diesel into the country through Balochistan. But it knows, deep down, that it can’t; at least not until it can force oil marketing companies to expand their retail network across the sparsely populated province and completely secure the long border with Iran to block the illegal trade routes. Neither of these two tasks is easy. The OMCs are reluctant to expand their retail networks in most parts of the province because of low demand, high freight cost and poor security conditions. Likewise, the job of securing multiple smuggling routes across the treacherous terrain demands extensive deployment of manpower and the establishment of security check-posts, in addition to close cooperation from Tehran.
The plan recently approved by the prime minister to stop the sale of smuggled oil in parts of the country anticipates these difficulties, as well as the fact that it is smuggled Iranian oil that is keeping the wheels moving in most areas of Balochistan. Hence it has made the decision to focus on a customs-led crackdown against illegal petrol outlets in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, besides cutting off supply lines of the smuggled oil from Balochistan in the first phase of the plan. In the second phase, the POL requirement of Balochistan will be mapped, legal retail outlets opened and a strategy to stall smuggling devised. The plan looks good, but only on paper. Its implementation will be fraught with difficulties and roadblocks, which are not limited to the expansion of the networks of OMCs or the blockade of smuggling routes. The illegal flow of Iranian oil worth Rs250bn a year — in tankers and jerry cans mounted on jeeps and motorcycles, in full view of the border security forces, customs authorities and provincial administration — shows the involvement of a powerful mafia in this business. If the plan is to succeed, it must first target this ring.

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