01 March 2013

Targetted Killing of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan: The Usual Suspects

As an ethnic group, the approximately 500,000 Hazaras in Balochistan Province, apart from being Shia, are also extremely patriotic Pakistanis. In the last five years, approximately 1,200 Hazaras have lost their lives to terrorism in Balochistan. Irrespective of the motive of those behind their killing, it is the duty of the Pakistani State and Balochistan Province to protect the Hazaras and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to swift and exemplary justice.

However, you cannot bring the perpetrators to justice if you don't know who the perpetrators are.

Below is a list of the five suspects most likely involved in the killing of Shia Hazaras in Pakistan's Balochistan province:

1. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ)

Applying Occam's Razor, the anti-Shia sectarian terrorist outfit, the LeJ, would be the first on the list. However, no matter how tempting it is to blame the most likely suspect, the LeJ, for killing Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, one cannot rule out that these are false flag terrorist acts intended to be blamed on the LeJ. This is not to say that the LeJ is not involved in the killing of Shias in Pakistan and ought not be condemned for doing so. However, it is too easy to blame the LeJ, a fact not lost on those other forces bent upon destablizing Balochistan and Pakistan as part of the Great Game underway in the region.

Some would argue that LeJ's culpability lies in the fact that it swiftly claims responsibility for attacks on Shia Hazaras in Balochistan (others would say rather too swiftly). Have we now reached that level of gullibity that we're going to believe the first anonymous and unverifiable claim of responsibility for a terrorist attack? Those who have the vaguest idea of how spy agencies work, know that claiming responsibility does not necessarily prove culpability. With the increasing number of false flag attacks, including false flag terrorist attacks, being carried out in the world today, it would be prudent to treat the first and early-bird claimants with skepticism and suspicion. Most claims for terrorist acts are anonymous with little or no possibility of verifying authenticity of the claim. Anyone can pick up a stolen cell phone or go to an internet cafe and anonymously claim responsibility for a terrorist act on behalf of an organization. The more sophisticated the claimant, the easier it is to mask its real identity with the help of technology and resources.

Also, LeJ's traditional sphere of activity is Pakistan's Punjab province. Its members traditionally come from central or south Punjab. Indeed, it gets its name from the town of Jhang in central Punjab. This begs the following questions:

(i) How and why did LeJ move from its homebase in heavily urbanized and populated Punjab province (where it's easier for them to intermingle and hide amongst the local populaton) to the vast, empty or sparsely populated deserts and mountains of Balochistan where non-Baloch and non-Pakhtuns stand out?

(ii) How can LeJ's mostly Punjabi members operate with impunity not only in Quetta but along the isolated national highways of Balochistan when other Punjabi settlors are being targetted in Balochistan by the BLA?

Be that as it may, is there an alliance of terror between the sectarian LeJ and the separatist BLA? Terrorism is one of those things that makes strange bedfellows. Or perhaps this alliance of terror is not so far-fetched: for BLA, the Hazaras are non-Baloch, for LeJ, they are non-Muslim. The BLA's and LeJ's objectives may be converging when it comes to the Shia Hazaras.

2. Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)

The BLA indiscriminately targets anyone who is pro-Pakistan in Balochistan, including the Baloch (the case of Mir Muzaffar Jamali Shaheed, the Baloch schoolteacher who was murdered by the BLA in 2012 for flying Pakistan's flag and playing Pakistan's national anthem at his school in Kharan being a case in point). In threats with racist undertones, the BLA has also openly threatened all non-Baloch, including Shia Hazaras, in Balochistan to leave Balochistan or face death. This is the BLA's declared policy of ethnic cleansing in Balochistan. The only non-Baloch ethnic group which the BLA has not threatened with expulsion from Balochistan are the Pakthtuns and this is because the Pakhtuns make up half of Balochistan's population (recent estimates now put Pakhtuns in the majority in Balochistan) and the BLA simply lacks the capability, capacity and guts to expel them.

The Shia Hazaras are not only non-Baloch but also pro-Pakistan and pro-Pakistan Army. This puts them high on the BLA's target list, which sees them as a major stumbling block in their ambition of creating an independent Balochistan. BLA would have no issue with the blame being passed on to the LeJ because they don't want to annoy Western governments, to whom they're trying to sell their doomed Free Balochistan idea to.

BLA achieves three goals by targetting the Shia Hazaras:

(i) Reduction in the population of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan through (a) targetted killings and (b) forcing their exodus from Balochistan;

(ii) Alienating the Shia Hazaras from Pakistan and the Pakistan Army; and

(iii) Demonstrating that Pakistani government and institutions have failed in Balochistan.

3. US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

One can no longer ignore the fact that terrorist activity in Balochistan peaks each time Pakistan is close to signing strategic pacts with China or Iran, primarily involving the construction of major infrastructure and energy projects in Balochistan. This trend is so consistent that it shows a reoccuring pattern and cannot be dismissed as a mere coincidence.

The United States is openly opposed to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and secretly averse to good relations between Pakistan and Iran. The US continuously and constantly undermines Iran-Pakistan relations, overtly and covertly. The easiest way to strain Iran-Pakistan relations is to target Shias in Pakistan, which forces Shia Iran's government to take a hardline against Pakistan due to domestic public pressure.

In the last 20 years, every major milestone in the improvement of Iran-Pakistan relations has been followed by the targetted killing of Shias in Pakistan. Is it merely a coincidence that recent developments in the construction of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline have been accompanied with a proportionate rise in terrorist attacks against the Shia Hazaras in Balochistan?

The bulk of the 781 km section of the 1,881 km Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline in Pakistan will pass through Balochistan on its way to Nawabshah in Sindh province. What better way to stall this project than by killing two birds with one stone:

(i) Destablize Balochistan through terrorism; and

(ii) Specifically target the Shia Hazaras to additionally strain Iran-Pakistan relations.

4. India's Research & Analysis Wing (RAW)

Chuck Hagel, now US Defence Secretary, in a talk on Afghanistan at the Cameron University in Oklahoma in 2011 confirmed what many Pakistanis have been crying hoarse over the years: that India is using Afghanistan as a base for subversive activities, including terrorism, against Pakistan. Hagel stated that India has been using Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. According to Hagel, "India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border, and you can carry that into many dimensions." One of those dimensions is terrorism.

Having established its presence in the Indian Embassy in Kabul and Indian Consulates, among others, in Jalalabad and Kandahar, India's RAW is engaged in destablizing Pakistan through covert cross border operations inside Pakistan. This includes Indian support to terrorist groups in Pakistan such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the BLA.

Apart from desiring the break-up of Pakistan, which has been its objective since Pakistan's independence, India is also opposed to China gaining a foothold in Gwadar as part of China's strategic "String of Pearls" around the Indian Ocean. From India's standpoint, destabilizing Balochistan, where Gwadar Port is situated, achieves both these objectives.

5. Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS)

The Karzai-led Tajik and Uzbek dominated Northern Alliance government in Afghanistan has a historic axe to grind against Pakistan since the 1990s when Pakistan supported the Pakhtun Taliban against it.

The NDS is not acting on its own but with the help of RAW. Ninety-percent of the weapons and explosives being smuggled into Pakistan are being smuggled from Afghanistan. The overwhelming majority of foreign terrorists, including Uzbek terrorists, entering Pakistan are also doing so from Afghanistan through the porous Pak-Afghan border, which is unlikely without the knowledge of the Afghan National Army, the US Military, NDS and the CIA, all of whom closely monitor the Pak-Afghan border.


What is happening in Pakistan's Balochistan province is a multidimensional chess game with multiplayers, including the players mentioned above. It would be oversimplification to label the targetted killing of Shia Hazaras as merely sectarian oriented. When multiple foreign spy agencies operate in your national theatre, then all is not what it seems.

Are the Hazaras being targetted because they're Shia or because they're pro-Pakistan? Are they being punished for their faith or for their loyalty to the Pakistani State? Or both? While Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is the usual suspect, the Balochistan Liberation Army and other separatist terrorist groups (as well as their foreign sponsors) should not be ruled out.

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