Oblivious of the vagaries of politics, an inspiring Hazara friend of mine innocently urged: “I want unity for all. I want actions not words; I want results not hypothetical solutions.” In the past two weeks, tragic events in Balochistan have left the province in gloom and despair to say the least. Whether it was sectarian conflict in Quetta or the cold-blooded killing of innocent Pashtun travelers in Mastung, Baloch nationalists were left as heartbroken as their Pashtun and Hazara counterparts.
Generally, people avoid violence when they have stakes in peace. In Balochistan, peace — defined as the absence of violent conflict — is in the interest of its all dwellers. For Hazaras, peace ensures their very survival. For Pashtuns, peace means protection for their businesses, especially in Quetta city. For Baloch nationalists, sectarian violence distorts their proud secular identity. For religious political parties and sectarian outfits, peace entails the very essence of Islam. For state’s institutions, especially security agencies, maintaining peace is discharging their very constitutional obligation. For leaders of the masses, peace is imperative for economic development of their constituencies.
In Quetta, after the latest bout of sectarian violence whereby people from both side of the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide were killed, I asked one question from officeholders of various political parties in the city so as to understand how they approach their common value of peace: what causes sectarian violence in Balochistan?
Usman Kakar — PkMAP’s provincial president and the party’s senator — contends that “sectarian violence is the extension of anti-Saur revolution policy of late 1970s and Kashmir militancy, Saudi-Iran proxy war and the divide and rule policy perpetrated by undemocratic forces in Pakistan”. For Kakar, “the latest incident of sectarian violence in Quetta is an attempt on the part of dominant institutes to destabilise Pashtunkhawa Watan so as to justify the change in the original route of Pakistan China Economic Corridor”.
According to Muhammad Akram Dashti, the president of National Party Balochistan chapter, “patronage to Sunnism, the blow-back effect of inculcating anti-communism and anti-India values, Iran-Saudi involvement to a lesser extent though and the divide and rule policy of anti-democratic forces induce sectarian militancy in Balochistan.”
Ahmed Ali Kohzad, General Secretary of the nationalist Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), believed that “although sectarian militancy is the manifestation of Iran-Saudi proxy war and a means to neutralise Baloch separatism, the latest phase of sectarian violence is meant to render the execution of PCEC impossible.”
Agha Hasan advocate, BNP’s central committee member, opines that, “sectarian violence in Balochistan derives from the policy of rolling back the Afghan Saur revolution, Saudi-Iran proxy war and a means to counter Baloch nationalism.”
For Asghar Khan Achakzai, ANP’s president Balochistan chapter, “sectarian violence owes to enormous support rendered to Islamic extremism in the wake of Saur revolution, Saudi-Iran proxy war and an attempt to defame the western route of PCEC so as to change the route.”
For Malik Sikandar Advocate, JUI(F)’s provincial General Secretary, “sectarian killing is the failure of the state’s institutions to protect citizens against the interference by America, India, Saudi Arabia and Iran”.
The foregoing discussion shows that Balochistan-based Baloch, Hazara and Pashtun nationalist actors give almost identical reasons for sectarian violence in the province. How can Balochistan-based ethnic and religious political parties effectively combat sectarian violence?
After multiple interactions with leaders of ethnic and religious political parties in Balochistan, what remains obvious is that convergence in thought is not in line with their actions mainly due to lack of any meaningful communication. The result is not only the almost-nonexistent coordination on issues of mutual interest among these leaders but also misperception among common people. To illustrate, many people in Balochistan consider HDP to be the conduit of Iranian influence contrary to the fact that the party is diametrically opposed to any Iranian influence among the Hazaras.
Similarly, considering every religious political party of Sunni persuasion as a surrogate of Saudi Arabia is equally misplaced. Contrary to popular perception, “we appreciate the positive role of JUI in shunning sectarian politics,” Kohzad said. Without close cooperation among multiple segments of society amounts to fulfilling the mission of sectarian zealots, who want to further the schism along the Shia-Sunni fault lines.
Tackling sectarian militancy, this article urges a common forum for myriad ethnic and religious political parties. Taking my cue from “prisoner dilemma” — suggesting that there can be no cooperation without communication — I strongly believe that a liaison committee can be a useful idea to resolve or at least manage not only sectarian violence but any issue of collective concern. Comprising one senior member from every political party, functions of this consultative body should be establishing a hotline, evolving a consensus or at least coordination on sensitive matters of common concern and fostering integration among religious and ethnic communities.
Dr Malik Baloch may leave behind a wonderful legacy of being an architect of peace among diverse political parties — after he quits as chief minister — if he constitutes a committee to the effect. All the leaders of political parties I spoke to unanimously agreed to the idea. If God forbid a fresh spell of sectarian violence erupts, collaboration among political parties will definitely help arrest the extremist mindset permeating the society. Nevertheless, what is equally important is to deal with militant sectarianism as a serious law and order issue.
Foreign involvement notwithstanding, militant sectarianism has, over the years, developed an independent character of its own. Even when foreign hand is eliminated — the issue which the central government should seriously take up with governments of regional states — sectarian violence will not die away. The state’s institutions — especially its law enforcement agencies — need to deal with militants sternly, of course within the ambit of law.
Effective ban on hate literature not only involves revisiting the curricula of sectarian madrassahs but also banning the sale of sacrilegious literature. Moreover, the provincial government should initiate dialogue among various religious-sectarian groups to help reduce the chasm between Shia and Sunni sects. Nevertheless, the key to any durable peace in Balochistan lies is engaging Baloch separatists through meaningful negotiations.