Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan, has over years witnessed perpetual violence and organised terrorism, particularly systematic attempts at ethnic cleansing of Hazara people, continuous incidents of target killing and bombing, enforced disappearances of political workers, abductions for ransom, and brute crackdowns against the Afghan refugees.
This unfortunate city now seems to have turned into a habitat of alienation, trauma and resentment after the carnage that took place on August 8, last year, when the entire class of the city lawyers was decimated by the terrorists in broad daylight at the civil hospital of the city.
Now after a year of the tragic incident that took almost all the senior and practising members of the city’s legal fraternity, it’s Quetta that is bleeding from the tragedy. It is being structurally placed on the periphery of the resourceful Balochistan and is one of the worst victims of structural violence and exploitation — an issue which is dismissed as an anachronism by the pop culture of anti-corruption, rule of law and development rhetorics in and around the business of the institutional core.
Quetta has been under a coordinated network of terror and a strict surveillance mechanism for a long time. Such a situation can result in many consequences. The most frightening one might be the disappearance of the difference between security and terror, as Italian Philosopher Giorgio Agamben sees it in the case of ‘politics reduced to police’. “The thought of security bears within it an essential risk. A state which has security as its sole task and source of legitimacy is a fragile organism; it can always be provoked by terrorism to become itself terroristic,’’ writes Agamben in one of his essays.
To put it differently, it is a matter of routine in the modern security states, when there is terror, there is security, and vice versa. The result is a vicious cycle. In such a case, the ‘other’ is very much part of the cycle, as an essential feature of it, subjectively constructed and discursively maintained.
Postmodern and political economy approaches to security and terrorism in the realm of critical terrorism studies (CTS) and related fields suggest to think differently: to liberate the security-terrorism debate from popular and hegemonic discourses of the liberal democratic systems, and to not buy at least the state’s versions of the (counter) terrorism issues.
However, it should not be taken as an excuse that Quetta is not an exception to the business of the modern security state in Pakistan at margins or elsewhere in the world but it serves what the political economy of security and surveillance requires. While meeting this requirement, playing on a blurred boundary between threat and security might not be seen as a weakness on part of the system, but one of the smart techniques of hegemony in this age of the so-called war on terror.
Having said that, the most dominant and hardest reality in Quetta is certainly the security administration that seems to have eventually succeeded in reducing the influence of elected government to the lower ranks and files at the secretariat and some petty patron-client relationships premised on bargaining for favours for votes, jobs, transfers, contracts and thana kachehri affairs. This is, however, the state of narrating and engaging the everyday politics in Balochistan.
From the security dimension, the history of the garrison status of Quetta goes back to the colonial times, second half of the nineteenth century, when the British Army, after several attempts of its expansion towards Southern Afghanistan, succeeded to occupy Quetta and to convert it into a military base or a ‘jumping-off point’ against Afghanistan, especially during the second Anglo-Afghan war.
Anthropologist and historian Louis Dupree in his book Afghanistan sees the occupation of Quetta and its conversion into a military base in 1876, a development that ‘‘heralded the advent of the New forward policy in Central Asia’’. That policy brought substantial changes in the dynamics of Central Asian polity during the cold war period. The state of Pakistan, the history informs, availed a strategic share in the continuation of same forward policy in Balochistan for the same purpose; that is to influence the Central Asian and Middle Eastern political landscapes, especially the dynamics of Afghanistan.
Since the end of the 19th century, it is this garrison status of Quetta that has been defining the limits of urban life and social mobility in Balochistan, resulting into an imbalance between infrastructural and productive developments and indigenous social transformation. In this regard, the history of people’s social and political struggle has fundamentally been the history of testing the authoritative limits drawn to social transformation and political recognition.
Presently, if we look at the sociological landscape of Quetta, we will find a middle class that is largely comprised of the native Pashtuns and Balochs who are determined to strive for an upward social mobility with an ideology seeking to progressively and productively engage the wider society in progression. They look like most of the proverbial South Asian people with one foot in the village and other in the city.
Given the reason of restricted mobility, the middle class in Balochistan predominantly operates in a way that presents a divide and antagonism within its structure on the basis of negotiating the very relationship with the state whether that relationship should be defined in terms of the questions of historical identities and political rights or in terms of seeking a patronage for personalised consumptions.
Quetta’s August 8 carnage was the most calculated attack in the history of terrorism (s) in Balochistan in the sense that it eliminated the first organised and enlightened professional class of Pashtuns and Balochs and caused an unbearable loss to the process of upward social mobility and economic dynamism in the province.
The careerism the city lawyers wanted to develop was not a socially dis-embedded and uprooted one; it had a value and a commitment to the people. This was because of their familial and social backgrounds in which they were trained with an ideology of combination of profession and politics. They were politically trained by their families and vibrant political circles. Almost all of them have left their social profiles as men of progressive and nationalist orientation.
In Balochistan, the lawyer community has been the most active of all other professional groups in raising voice for people’s political, democratic and civil rights. The martyred lawyers were active to facilitate people with a sort of localisation of the courts in Balochistan and to bring professionalism and progressive politics closer to each other in the public sphere. This is seen as the most expected reason behind such a devastating attack on the lawyer community.
To conclude, if people are not politically organised on progressive ideological grounds, no matter how many ‘game-changers’ like CPEC are bestowed on the province, no matter which political party succeeds to rule the province in the upcoming general elections, the fear of further catastrophes will continue to govern human soul in Quetta and rest of the province.