Fears grow in Balochistan

Attacks on minorities and schools signal extremist groups are strengthening in the province

Fears grow in Balochistan
Growing incidents of religious extremism and violence in the Baloch-dominated areas of the Balochistan province, especially in the coastal region of Makran, are a cause of serious concern, political activists and security analysts say.

Last week, pamphlets warning parents not to send their daughters to schools were distributed in various parts of the Makarn region. On December 4, two unidentified men on a motorcycle killed prominent educationist Zahid Askani in Gwadar city. A militant group calling themselves as Daesh – the Arabic name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS – claimed responsibility for the attack. They told reporters he was killed for promoting an education system that contradicted Islam and the Sharia law. Askani headed the Oasis school system in the region. In July, militants attacked a school bus taking girls to the Oasis school. They toched the vehicle and beat the driver and staff.

Extremist outfits have also targeted religious minorities in the region. In late August, eight worshippers were killed and nine others injured in an attack on a mosque belonging to the Zikri sect in the Awaran district.

Civil society organizations and Baloch nationalist parties believe that new madrassas and increasing activities of banned Jihadi outfits are hurting the traditional progressive landscape of the province.

An education official in Panjgur said more than 25 schools in the district have received threats in August from a little known organization Tanzeemul Islam al Furqan. “The organization wants English medium and coeducational schools to close down,” he said, adding that a number of families had moved to Quetta and Karachi after a forced closure of schools.
"They are killing and blackmailing us in the name of religion"

In a protest carried out by students and teachers of various schools in Gwadar, participants asked the government for protection. “They are killing and blackmailing us in the name of religion,” one participant said. “We know why the extremists are doing this. They want to keep us illiterate.”

Religious minorities in Balochistan have lived in relative peace in the past, but recent attacks have whipped up fears. Ramu Lal, a Hindu community leader in Windar city of Lasbela district, said his people feared attacks on the centuries-old temples in the province. “We have been living in fear, especially after the attack on Zikri worshippers and the abductions of Hindu traders for ransom,” he said. “We fear they will target and destroy the Kali Maatha temple in Qalat and the Hinglaj temple on the brink of Hinglaj river in Lasbela. These temples are hundreds of years old.”

Hasil Bizenjo, head of the National Party that is in government in Balochistan, is concerned. “Most Baloch people are liberal and political,” he said in a gathering at the Karachi Press Club. “At this stage, we don’t know how many extremist and religious groups are active in Balachistan.” Bizenjo admitted it was the government’s responsibility to provide security to educational institutions and religious minorities.

A section of Baloch nationalist leaders and intellectuals says extremist groups are being patronized in the region to weaken Baloch nationalist parties and the ongoing separatist movements.

“It is a conspiracy to weaken the Baloch political struggle,” said a Gwadar-based political activist. He said religious charities linked with banned militant outfits were brought into the earthquake-hit Awaran and other parts of Balochsitan, while the government did not allow any reputable international aid organizations in the area.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also expressed concerns about the increasing religious militancy in Balochistan. “The rise of extremism in Balochistan province is very alarming,” HRCP chairwoman Zohra Yusuf says in a statement. “That the militants pose a very serious and growing threat to the girl students, their teachers and common people of Panjgur is evident from distribution of threatening flyers followed by the attacks.”

The writer is a journalist from Balochistan and has worked with the Balochi Vash TV