Strangers in their own land


  Muhammad Akbar Notezai 

Balochistan’s Hindus are migrating because of security fears

Strangers in their own land


On December 2, police found an abandoned vehicle at a parking lot in Quetta. It belonged to Dr Manoj Kumar, a noted educationist in the city and a medical officer at a government hospital in the nearby town of Dadhar. He had been abducted. Two months later, he was set free in the Hazarganji suburb of the provincial capital. A source in his family said they let him go after they were paid Rs 14 million.

Hindus in Quetta say it is not an isolated incident. Although security has improved for the minority community since this government took over, they say they live in fear.

“We are soft targets,” a Hindu trader said. “We cannot put up a resistance. We have to pay the ransom.”

Balochistan’s chief minister, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, told reporters last year that law-enforcement agencies in his province had arrested or killed most members of 72 gangs involved in abduction for ransom. Recent newspaper reports suggest security forces have stepped up action against militant groups in Balochistan since the prime minister announced a National Action Plan to combat terrorism.

But a Hindu rights activists says at least 45 Hindu families left their hometown in the Mach district of Balochistan last year because of security fears, and massive migration of Hindus has been reported out of Kalat, Khuzdar and Mastung districts.

Hindus are among the oldest dwellers of Balochistan. “It is not known exactly how and when the Hindus settled in Balochistan, but it is said that before the invasion of Mohammad Bin Qasim in 712, they lived in areas near Karachi, such as Hub, Lasbela, Kalat and Sevi (now known as Sibi),” says Prof Aziz Mohammad Bugti, a renowned author based in Quetta.

“We are soft targets”

Sham Kumar, a Hindu intellectual, says they ruled parts of Balochistan before the Arab invasion. “In those days, Hinduism and Buddhism were dominant in Balochistan and Sindh,” he says.

Two Hindu temples from those times still survive – the Hinglaj Mata temple in Lasbela and the Kali Mata temple in Kalat. “They are reminiscent of the strong influence that Hindus had in Balochistan in those times,” says Prof Bugti.

The historic Kalat city is named after the fabled Hindu ruler Kalat Seva, he says. The Chaman district of Balochistan, which is now part of the Pashtun belt, was likely named after famous Hindu fruit trader Chaman Das. But the town of Hindu Bagh, in the Qilla Saifullah district, was renamed Muslim Bagh.

Hindus have played a prominent role in the Baloch economy over centuries, and were as much a part of the Baloch society as any other community. Inayatullah Baloch says in his book The Problem of Greater Balochistan that during the siege of Kalat in 1839, Finance Minister Dewan Bucha Mull, a Hindu, sacrificed his life to defend Kalat.

“Hindus live in almost all districts of Balochistan, other than the Makran division,” says Dr Mohan Kumar, who belongs to the ruling National Party. They lived in the province after the Partition peacefully and without fear, until at least the 1970s.

A Hindu teacher said some Hindus in Balochistan considered themselves “superior” until the 1980s. “After Gen Ziaul Haq took over the country, things began to change,” he said. “We are insecure now, and we feel that we do not have the support of the local people the way we did in the past.”

A national newspaper reported in 2013 that 13,000 Hindus had migrated out of Dera Bugti since 2006, when the security situation worsened in the area. But a Hindu who belongs to Dera Bugti but is now settled in Quetta does not agree with the figure. “The total number of Hindus in Dera Bugti was not more than 2,000.”

The emigration began after the death of former chief minister Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, said the Hindu teacher, escalating sharply between 2010 and 2014.

In a press conference in October last year, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan chairwoman Zohra Yusuf had said 300,000 Shias, Zikris, and Hindus had left the province because of security concerns.

Some moved to other parts of the province because they are not ready to leave their homeland. “Many Hindu families have resettled in Mastung,” says Munir Ahmad, a local stringer.

But the community complains the provincial government has done very little to address their fears and stop the migration.

“We live in fear,” says the Hindu teacher. “We feel like strangers in our own land.”

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta

Email: akbar.notezai@gmail.com

Twitter: @Akbar_notezai

Blog: akbarnotezai.wordpress.com

The Friday Times

Lahore In Blood


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On March 15, 2015, two suicide bombers near the gates of two churches, St John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church, blew themselves up in the Youhanabad area of Lahore. The horrendous incidents took place at the time when the Christian worshipers were attending Sunday mass at the two churches, in which at least 17 Christians were killed and over 70 injured. Unfortunately, it marked one of the worst ever attacks on the Christian community in Pakistan. The Jamat-ul-Ahrar, one of the offshoots of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed the responsibility for the attacks.

Following the suicide attacks on the two churches, enraged Christian community members of the Youhanabad area of Lahore lynched two men who they suspected of being involved in the attacks. According to media reports, the suspected men were guiltless. Despite being guiltless, they were barbarically and mercilessly targeted. After beating them to death, they were burnt. Ironically, in the name and under the cover of blasphemy, Christians themselves usually get lynched guiltlessly at the hands of religious fundamentalists. But this time the roles changed.

On the other hand, the independent analysts are of the view that the government has failed to protect its minorities. Due to the government’s inefficiency and failures, these incidents occur. They also hold the government accountable for peaceful minorities taking up arms and lynching whoever comes before them. Soon after the attacks, Mr. Imran Khan, the Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), too, condemned the incidents in a tweet, as well as criticized the government for not providing enough security to churches. Unfortunately, he himself did not remember that his own provincial government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province had provided only two policemen for the security of 600 Christian worshipers at the All Saints Church of Peshawar, in which 81 worshippers, including 37 women, were killed and 170 were critically injured.

In the aftermath of the tragic Army Public School attack in Peshawar, the military courts were set up; the National Action Plan (NAP) was announced; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif allowed capital punishment for those who have already been sentenced to death in terrorism cases. Did this end terrorism in the country? On the contrary, it seems that terrorism has further intensified in the country. That is why, one after the other, terrorists attacks are taking place. Moreover, in the previous month, Parvez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military ruler, also admitted in an interview with The Guarding that during his tenure as head of the state, Pakistan tried to undermine the government of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, as well as to have cultivated the Taliban after 2001. So, in these circumstances, how can we have peace in the country if we oppose it in our neighboring country?

Besides this, in recent weeks the chief Minister of the Punjab province Mr. Shehbaz Sharif was also exposed in a deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan through Al-Qaeda for not conducting operations in Punjab. Moreover, questions are raised here : is Punjab only Pakistan? Do other remaining provinces not belong to Pakistan? Are the people living in other provinces of Pakistan not citizens of Pakistan? Due to these double games of the rulers, innocent people of the country, particularly the minorities, are playing in blood. Today, Punjab is also under their attacks.

Although the government says that it has been doing enough to curb terrorism in the country, in reality, it seems that that there is no change in their policy. According to independent analysts, the government and its institutions still differentiate between the good and bad Taliban. Therefore, with the same pace and frequency, heart-wrenching incidents take place. One of its examples is the attacks on the two churches in Youhanabad, Lahore. Even the people, particularly the minorities, have lost trust and confidence in the government and its institutions, as they beat two men to death, who were under the Police custody.

Lastly, it is high time for the government to ensure that security is provided to its citizens, particularly the minorities, who have increasingly been under attacks. They are also equal citizens of the country, as it is enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan. They should also feel free to go to their churches, temples and gurdwaras.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets as @Akbar_notezai (twitter.com/Akbar_notezai)

Chaghai, the forgotten land


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Due to socio-economic issues, many graduate students go to the Pak-Iran border to work and earn a livelihood. Many youths have lost their lives whilst carrying illegal drugs across this border

On May 28, 1998,
Pakistan became a nuclear power when it carried out five nuclear tests at the Ras Koh hills of Balochistan’s Chaghai district. After the nuclear tests and during the same year, Nawaz Sharif, who was also the Prime Minister (PM) of the country in 1998, publicly stated in Dalbandin, the headquarters of district Chaghai: “I promise I will make Chaghai a model district in terms of roads, hospitals and other infrastructure in the country.” However, after one and a half decades since 1998, Chaghai is still as poor and backward as it was before and, to this day, the inhabitants of Chaghai yearn for basic amenities: clean drinking water, electricity, hospitals, employment and academic institutions. On my trip to Chaghai, one of its old residents in Dalbandin told me: “After the nuclear tests in 1998, PM Nawaz Sharif promised that he would bring development to Chaghai but, so far, nothing has changed over here.” He further added that if he (Nawaz Sharif) could not fulfil the promise that he had made to the people of Chaghai about its development, what could he do for the welfare of the entire nation?

Chaghai is one of the largest districts of Balochistan area wise and is part of a triangular border with Afghanistan and Iran. The district also houses a considerable number of domiciled Hindus, who are mostly immigrants and are thought to have migrated and have been living there since time immemorial. They are mostly traders and shopkeepers who have been living harmoniously with the local Baloch population. Interestingly, they are economically well off as well.

Saindak and Reko Diq, which are known worldwide to have abundant deposits of gold and copper, are also situated in the same district. According to Quetta-based geologists, there are scores of minerals in Chaghai that can be excavated and utilised for the welfare of the people living in the area, including marble, gold, copper, chromite, iron, silver, uranium and granite. “Chaghai is known for its quality marble for the past many decades and the government has failed to plan a marble city in Chaghai, where the best quality of onyx is available. Instead of building the marble city in Naukundi, it was built at Gadani only to please the former Chief Minister (CM), a permanent ruler of Balochistan,” writes Siddiq Baloch, a veteran journalist based in Quetta.

Interestingly, it is also said that the wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Malika Noor Jahan, was born in Yakmach, which is 60 km from Dalbandin. A grey haired Baloch in Yakmach told me the tale of a caravan that was coming from Delhi to Persia (today’s Iran) and saw a date tree in Yakmach where they decided to stay for a few days. It is said that during this time the wife of the caravan’s leader gave birth to a girl who later became the queen of undivided India.

Many of the students that this scribe met in the district of Chaghai have shown an extraordinary interest in education. However, due to the lack of schools in their areas and poverty, they told me that they do not have access to education. The former district education officer, Mr Aman Ullah Khan, said: “The remote areas of Chaghai that we visited do not have schools, which is why the higher authorities should build schools in those areas and provide teachers over there.” He added that he had also not been contacted even once by the authorities of Saindak and Reko Diq mining projects to provide scholarships to the students. One of the residents of Saindak complained that the school in their area lacked teachers for major subjects. “I would love to study if I had a school in my village,” said Liaqat Ali from the Siya Rake village of Naukundi, which is only two kilometres from the Reko Diq project.

Chaghai is also plagued by a plethora of other problems. Due to socio-economic issues, many graduate students go to the Pak-Iran border to work and earn a livelihood. Many youths have lost their lives whilst carrying illegal drugs across this border. Despite mortal risks to their lives, these youngsters still resort to such activities. They say that they do not have other alternatives to earn their livelihoods and that they get paid handsomely for doing such jobs.

In the 1980s, Afghan refugees settled abundantly in district Chaghai and, to this day, they are still living there. Presently, they have their own separate towns in Chaghai’s Girdi Jungle, Bramcha, Chagay and Posti areas, which is why the Baloch nationalists fear that the further increase in their numbers might alter the ethnic demography of the people of the area. Hence, they demand that Afghan refugees be repatriated back to their home country.

It is to be noted that Chaghai has been ignored and forgotten by successive governments. In the 21st century, its people are living as though they are in the Middle Ages and are deprived of basic facilities. Surprisingly, despite Mr Nawaz Sharif’s currently being in power, his visit to the district and his knowledge of its backwardness, he has not done anything for its people. If he can send Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal to welcome the Arab dignitaries in Dalbandin who came to hunt the endangered Houbara Bustard, why can he and his government not do anything for the prosperity of the people of Chaghai?

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com and on twitter @Akbar_notezai

Daily Times

Houbara bustard hunters


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Despite orders from the highest court of the province, Arab royals visited and hunted birds in the Musakhel and Panjgur districts of Balochistan

Although the Houbara bustard isan officiallyprotected specie of birds, Arab royals from the Gulf countries have been hunting them in the country with impunity. Until the late 1970s, it is said that Arab royals would go to Iran and Afghanistan to hunt the Houbara bustards. However, this came to an end when Ruhollah Khomeini, who was the Iranian religious leader of the 1979 so-called Islamic Revolution, came to power. Thereafter, due to Saudi-Iran rivalry and war in Afghanistan, Pakistan became their destination for hunting the Houbara bustard.Interestingly, in 1972, Pakistan also imposed a ban on hunting the migratory birds but the ban could not deter the Arab royals from hunting.

In previous years, the federal government issued 33 ‘special’ permits to thedignitaries of five countries in the Gulf region to kill the birds. The list of special permit holders is as follows: Arab royals from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. The Arab royals, according to the list, have been given many districts in all four provinces of the country. It is to be noted thatthese 33 permitsstate that dignitaries are allowed to hunt 100 birds each with falconrywhile the use of firearms is disallowed. Despite this, last year when Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud landed in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Balochistan’sChagai district, he massacred 2, 100 Houbara bustards within 21 days. This hunt gained critical media attention nationally and internationally.When the furor in the media was at its height, the Balochistan High Court (BHC) ordered the cancellation of all licensesthat had been issued to the Middle Eastern royalty in Balochistan.

Last year, when JafferBaloch, a divisional forest officer of the Balochistan Forest and Wildlife Department of Chagai, prepared a report about the exact data of the 2, 100 birds killed and also unearthed that the governor of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (Fahd) was using a fake permit, which had been illegally produced by the foreign minister, he was transferred from his post for doinghis job honestly.

In 2010, AslamBhootani, the then speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, also claimed that the prime minister’s office had been pressuring the provincial government for the allotment of large tracts of lands to Arab royals for the purpose of hunting. He further warned that the federal government or the prime minister’s office should not pressurise the government for the allotment of theselands. On the other hand, the present provincial government of Balochistan’s so-called nationalist Baloch, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, has been hoodwinking. He himself welcomed the Arab royals in Balochistan with arms wide open to have the rare and endangered Houbara bustards massacred.Ironically, what is unfortunate and sad is the statementmade by the advisor to the chief minister of Balochistanon forest and wildlife, Obaidullah Jan Babat. It states, “Arab dignitaries are visiting development sites; they are not hunting.”

On the other hand, a source from Dalbandin, who has requested not to be named, refuted the claim made by Jan Babat. He said the governor of Tabukhad not been visiting development sites. Instead, he said that the governorhad spent his visit inthe desert areas of Dalbandin in order to hunt. Also, Ali Raza Rind, who is a journalist based in Chagai, said, “In the past, the governor of Tabuk built a gigantic and beautiful hospital and mosque by issuing funds to the governmental authorities.” But he also refuted the claim that he had come to visit the development sites in Dalbandin. However, local residents of Dalbandin are complainants that the hospital lacks doctors and basic facilities. They further add that the hospital had become a “showpiece”, where they could neither get treated, nor could they get medicines. They regretted that they had to go to Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, for treatment.

In the past, Arab dignitaries had also been under attack in Balochistan. For instance, in 2013, according to media reports, unidentified assailants attacked the hunting camp of the former Qatari oil minister, Abdullah bin Hamad al Attiyah, in the Buleda area of Balochistan’sKech district, in which one levies man was killed. Moreover, two days later,unidentified men also abducted four local men who were working with the Arab Sheikh of Qatar. After the abduction of the local men and the assault on the levies man the government authorities blamedthe Baloch insurgents for being involved, as, according to government authorities, the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) had sent threatening letters to Arab royals.

Nevertheless, despite orders from the highest court of the province, Arab royals visited and hunted birds in the Musakhel and Panjgur districts of Balochistan. While writing these lines, the governor of Tabuk, who last year hunted 2, 100 birds, is presently camped again in the Bartagazi area of Dalbandin and the provincial government of Balochistan, instead of implementing the verdict of the BHC, has approached the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan to challenge the cancellation of licenses to the Arab dignitaries.

Despite the fact that the Houbara bustard is listed as “vulnerable” in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN) red list, Arab dignitaries time and again violate the laws of the country and massacre the migratory birds. Though they have bans imposed on hunting the Houbara bustard in their own countries, particularly in Saudi Arabia, they kill the same birds in Pakistan. This meansthat our laws do not matter in front of Arab dignitaries, while Pakistanis are beheaded in Saudi Arabia for breaking the law. Even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is silent over the Houbara hunting matter. Surprisingly, he sent his federal minister, AhsanIqbal, to welcome the governor of Tabukin Dalbandin last month.

Unnamed sources also revealed that Arab sheiks of Gulf countries have also been brought illegally to Balochistan to hunt the Houbara bustards. They hunt annually without having licenses. Though our neighbouring country,India,has banned Houbara bustard hunting because the bird is atrisk of extinction, we are not learning any lesson from them. Pitifully, we have let our love for the Arabs mercilessly endanger this bird.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta.  He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached atakbar.notezai@gmail.com andon twitter @Akbar_notezai

Daily Times

The Shikarpur tragedy


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Unfortunately, like other provinces in the country, Sindh is also fast becoming insecure for its minorities, particularly the Ahmedis

It is interesting to note that Sindh, in the past, sheltered peacefully and harmoniously people belonging to different faiths, who took refuge in its land. At the time of partition, it is said that Sindh remained peaceful; it did not witness any kind of communal violence. Moreover, during the dictatorial days of General Ziaul Haq, many people, in order to escape persecution, ran away to interior Sindh. Ironically, it is now facing a great conflagration because Sufism, which is considered to be a panacea for the growing religious fundamentalism, has also become its victim.

It is unfortunate that the Shikarpur tragedy occurred only a month after the attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, where the attackers killed 132 schoolchildren. Following the Peshawar school attack, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif constituted a special committee for the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism. Besides this, 247 members of the National Assembly and the Senate voted in favour of military courts to be set up to try civilian terror suspects. But nothing has changed so far. One after the other, terror incidents are taking place in the country.

Previously, sectarian attacks were more common in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. While the interior parts of Sindh would barely witness such sectarian attacks, it now seems that sectarianism has penetrated deep inside Sindh. Veengas, who is a journalist based in Karachi, says: “Due to bad governance, the land of the Sufis has come under attack.” She further adds, “In the interior parts of Sindh, all incidents are interconnected whether these are cases of forced conversions or sectarian assaults.” Unnamed sources from Shikarpur say that they are surprised at the mushrooming growth of madrassas (seminaries) in their areas.

In recent weeks, during a session of the Senate, Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman informed the house that Middle Eastern countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran and the UAE were funding religious seminaries in three provinces: Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the other hand, the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman warned the government against stopping foreign aid being received by the religious seminaries.

One has to wonder about what is going on in Sindh. Firstly, due to the forced conversions of young Hindu girls, Sindh is becoming increasingly maligned. Very pathetically, in interior Sindh, there have even been cases of married Hindu women who have been forcibly converted to Islam and later married. The report, which was issued by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP), stated that as many as 1,000 girls, aged 12 to 25, 70 percent of them Hindus, are abducted annually, forcefully converted to Islam by their captors, married off to men who usually rape them and, after that, force them into prostitution and human trafficking. This is one of the reasons that compels Hindus to migrate from Sindh to India.

Secondly, in recent years, the persecuted Ahmedi community has come under attack in Sindh. In different incidents, Ahmedis have been target killed. Unfortunately, like other provinces in the country, Sindh is also fast becoming insecure for its minorities, particularly the Ahmedis. Thirdly, sectarianism in the early 1980s and late1990s, due to an unfortunate state project, was established nationwide. Though Sindh is a secular province, sectarianism has started affecting it badly now. In the past, on many occasions, sectarian attacks have taken place in interior parts of Sindh too. In present times, it has expanded, which does not augur well for Sindh and its plural culture.

As usual, over the Shikarpur tragedy, rightwing parties, particularly the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), kept silent. They did not even condemn the horrendous incident. Instead, they are busy taking out rallies to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir. In doing so, they forget that their own countrymen are living in a nightmarish situation in their own country. Why can they not raise a voice for them? As far as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is concerned, though its leadership has condemned such attacks, they have pratically not taken any steps against these incidents. That is why extremism and sectarian attacks are intensifying in Sindh.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com andon twitter @Akbar_notezai

Daily Times

Seema Sirohi on Indian domestic and foreign policy under Narendra Modi.


Interview: Seema Sirohi

Interview: Seema Sirohi

What changes have you noticed in Indian politics since Narendra Modi became prime minister?

Since Narendra Modi became prime minister, one noticeable change has been the lack of a coherent opposition. The Congress Party, the national party that governed India for most of its independent history, is in complete disarray with just 44 seats in the lower house of parliament. There is a realignment of other left-of-center parties but it is unclear whether they can come together structurally to mount a proper opposition.

The other visible aspect is the resurgence of various Hindu nationalist cultural groups such as the RSS and the VHP, which see Modi’s victory as their own. They have begun pursuing their social agenda with vigor by trying to assert the Hindu identity. Reports of camps to convert Muslims and Christians and obstructing inter-religious marriages are disconcerting.

This does not portend well for India, which is a delicately balanced society of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. The secular fabric is what holds it together. It is unclear as yet whether Mr. Modi plans to contain these elements. So far he has remained above the fray by not commenting but his silence is being seen as encouragement of these elements.

How do you view Indian foreign policy under Modi?

Modi has energized India’s foreign policy but more importantly, he has linked his domestic policy to it, the main plank of which is India’s development. The vehicle of choice is his “Make in India” program. He has vigorously engaged India’s major partners, inviting them to participate in its development. The idea is to attract foreign investment but on India’s terms. Japan, China and the United States have showed a renewed interest in India – a major change from just a year ago when the world seemed to have lost interest in the India story.

He has established a confident presence in both India’s neighborhood and beyond. So far he hasn’t put a foot wrong in terms of foreign policy. Modi’s opening move itself was stunning, when he invited leaders of all neighboring countries, including Pakistan, to his swearing-in ceremony. That was foreign policy with flair. No one expected him to command the stage as he did. Then he had an extremely successful visit to the United States, baffling his most severe critics.

He pulled another rabbit out of his hat when he invited President Obama to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade in January. Obama has accepted the invitation, which means he would be the first serving U.S. president to visit India twice – an important signal of where Modi wants to take the India-U.S. relationship. There is a possibility that the two countries would renew their 10-year defense framework agreement in early 2015.

When Indo-U.S. relations are strong, India has more diplomatic space to deal with difficult neighbors such as China and Pakistan. Modi has also activated the “Act East” policy to strengthen relations with East Asia and especially Japan, which sends a clear signal to China.

One question is whether Modi can stabilize India’s traditionally good relations with Russia, because Moscow has opened a front with Pakistan and signed an arms deal with Islamabad, something that has irked India. But then Russia knows that it has very few friends in the world today.

Modi has taken a tougher stand on Pakistan, which means it won’t be business as usual. Pakistan must take concrete steps to shut down terrorist camps if a meaningful dialogue has to occur. Previous Indian governments would break the dialogue when a terrorist attack was traced to Pakistan-based extremists only to resume talks after a while in the interests of peace. This government seems to be different.

What do you think are the likely challenges for the Modi government?

The biggest challenge for India under any government is reviving the economy, creating a manufacturing base, and absorbing the millions of young people looking for jobs. Modi won the huge mandate because his message was development. Now he must deliver. Can he reform the economy? The answer will be a little clearer in 2015 – a crucial year for Modi to establish whether he is all talk or also action.

The other challenge is keeping the larger “Sangh Parivar” or family of various Hindu organizations in check so their provocations don’t unleash communal violence. That could wreck Modi’s plans and the India story. It is unclear how he will deal with these groups. There are enough disturbing signs for him to act sooner rather than later.

Why couldn’t Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit in India be a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations?

The Pakistan relationship is extremely complex and can’t be explained in quick, clever formulations. The first thing to understand is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif does not control Pakistan’s foreign policy on India, China, Afghanistan and the United States: The Pakistan military does. Every time a civilian leader has tried to improve relations with India, he has been given a stern warning.

President Asif Ali Zardari was stopped dead in his tracks with the 2008 Mumbai attacks. He had great plans to make peace. Over the last year Nawaz Sharif has been hemmed in by the military in all sorts of ways. The protests by Imran Khan and assorted rent-a-mullah were not entirely spontaneous. Sharif wanted to open trade with India but all reports say that the military has not given its OK. Even though Nawaz Sharif won a mandate, the military made sure he is incapacitated.

The India-Pakistan foreign secretary talks were cancelled for obvious reasons. The Pakistan foreign office chose to deliberately provoke India by going and meeting Kashmiri separatists ahead of the talks. Islamabad had been specifically requested not to take that step by New Delhi. The warning was ignored and India cancelled the talks. They read Modi wrong.

There is also an increasing sense in India that Pakistan’s civilian leaders and bureaucracy do not have any decision-making powers so what’s the point? When Pakistan gets serious about ending terrorism and acting against those who preach hatred against India openly such as LeT leader Hafiz Saeed, India will be ready to talk. The mastermind of the Mumbai attack is close to being released. The message to India from the military-ISI is the same it has always been – we will bleed you with a thousand cuts.

The big difference from 20 years ago when Pakistan embarked on a clear plan to use jihadists as instruments of state policy is this – the rest of the world now has no illusions about Pakistan. The Americans hold their noses to deal with the Pakistan military but it is not like in the days of Eisenhower and Nixon when nothing the military did was wrong or excessive.

Most major terrorist attacks, including 9/11, have a Pakistan connection. The top terrorist leaders (Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Hafiz Saeed) were and are living in Pakistan. India is no longer the lone voice on how Pakistan’s self-destructive policies of nurturing extremists are a source of instability in the world and for the region.

In the near future, does the government have the plan to talk with Pakistan?

If there is an opening, I am sure India would rise to the occasion. But the ball is in Pakistan’s court. After thePeshawar attack, in which 131 children were butchered by the Taliban, the hope is that Pakistan’s military and ISI will finally wake up to the threat that can gobble up the whole country. But no one is holding their breath. The kind of resolve needed to start cleaning up is not yet evident.

What are your thoughts on present India-Pakistan relations?

If the Pakistan military were not the dominant player, we would have been friends all along. Indians and Pakistanis want to be friends for the most part but the Pakistan military’s ideology – on which several new books have shed light – sees India as its “permanent enemy.” This prevents any real rapprochement. Pakistan’s civilian leaders have no real power or control over foreign policy, which ultimately makes talking to them a feel-good exercise. As an Indian I feel we should always talk, keep the door open, and help the liberal and progressive voices in Pakistan.

The radicalization of the average Pakistani is worrisome. When Hafiz Saeed gathers thousands of men in Lahore for a hate-fest, it tells you something. Pakistani textbooks teach hate towards India from the beginning, which sets in place a narrative that suits only the army, not the people.

Yet, India’s civil society and Pakistan’s liberals – the few who are still left in the country – keep bravely working towards peace. The Indian government – both Manmohan Singh and Modi – offered to sell electricity to Pakistan but there was no response. Nawaz Sharif wanted to go ahead but Raheel Sharif didn’t. When the army calls the shots, the civilians can’t really improve things.

India gave Pakistan the most favored nation status (MFN) required under the WTO years ago but Pakistan has been mulling over returning the favor for at least three years. Nawaz Sharif was ready but he was blocked by the military. So who doesn’t want peace in the neighborhood? Pakistan even blocks India transit rights to deliver food and other humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Despite sharing cultural, linguistic, geographic and economic links, the Pakistan-India relationship has been plagued by hostility. Why?

That would require a book to answer. But in short, Pakistan was born as the “un-India” and has been wandering around trying to find a suitable identity. It deliberately moved away from its South Asian roots and tried to be Arab. Today it is neither. It was a U.S. ally but acted against U.S. interests. It takes American money but hates America. Pakistan’s establishment has always been too busy exploiting the country’s geographical advantage – whether during the Cold War or after – that it forgot about building the country for the people.

Indians and Pakistanis share cultural and linguistic ties but while India for the most part embraces its past, which includes the Mughal rule, Pakistan officially shuns any association with the Indian civilization. It skips history to fit a convoluted, distorted and ultimately harmful narrative. Over the last two decades, Sufi Islam – a common bond – has been under attack in Pakistan with Sufi shrines being destroyed while Wahabism has spread. Indian Muslims by and large still practice a more moderate Islam.

We may watch the same Bollywood movies and Pakistanis may love Indian films but so long as an average Pakistani child is taught that India is the enemy, nothing can really change. We can make an uneasy peace but a lot will have to change for real peace.

     The Diplomat

The Peshawar massacre


This time, like in the past, right-wing leaders have accused the US, Israel and India as being behind the assault, forgetting the fact that we ourselves have become the US, Israel and India we are so suspicious of
By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

It is tragic that the wave of extremism has now started engulfing the innocent lives of children. What did they do to become victims of extremism wholesale? However, these assaults cannot discourage children from getting an education. The world’s youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, is a classic example of defying the odds in this regard. She courageously and bravely stood up against the Taliban for her right to education and thwarted their attempts.

Unfortunately, Peshawar has repeatedly been made to bleed. The people of Peshawar cannot indulge in a sigh of relief at the hands of these warmongering monsters. Their sufferings, day by day, have been compounded. As far as the recent massacre is concerned, the people of Peshawar have buried their future with their own hands. They are living under siege. As usual, we see ‘foreign hands’ being involved in the Peshawar massacre. Instead of dealing with miscreants with an iron fist, we have given them a free hand. That is why they (the perpetrators) have been committing crimes with absolute impunity. Also, this time, like in the past, right-wing leaders have accused the US, Israel and India as being behind the assault, forgetting the fact that we ourselves have become the US, Israel and India we are so suspicious of.

Still, we differentiate between ‘good’ Taliban and ‘bad’ Taliban. A case in point is the interview of Mr Sataj Aziz conducted by BBC Urdu on November 16, 2014. He confessed to this policy of good and bad Taliban, saying in his interview, “Why should the US’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies? When the US attacked Afghanistan, all who were trained and armed by us were pushed towards Pakistan. Some of them were dangerous for us and some were not. Why make enemies out of them all?” Unfortunately, like in the past, leaders have been found cashing in on their image after the tragic incident in Peshawar, playing politics over the innocent victims. For example, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan were seen laughing with each other over badly timed jokes as if the incident had not occurred. Both leaders, instead of using that press briefing to do nothing but condemn the Taliban over the gut-wrenching incident, seemed happy just to meet with one another.

As far as Nawaz Sharif is concerned, he has failed to address the people’s sufferings from the very beginning of his tenure. Extremism, during his tenure, has gone from bad to worse. Saudi funded seminaries are doubly increasing in the country and this government has failed to act against them. Moreover, the hydra-headed monster of sectarianism is based in Punjab; in support for Mr Sharif, the members of banned sectarian organisations take out rallies in Punjab. In this way how can he curb extremism?

Sadly, despite the massacre in Peshawar, Imran Khan has not changed his pro-Taliban stance. Though he condemned the incident, he did not name the Taliban as being involved in the gruesome act nor did he condemn them. He was opposed to Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and, from the beginning, has had a soft corner for the Taliban. Besides the above-mentioned incident, he also did not condemn the Taliban when they attacked the All Saints Church of Peshawar wherein 81 Christian worshippers were killed.

On March 27, 2014, a national English daily quoted Mr Khan as saying: “The Taliban did not want to enforce sharia in the country at gunpoint but wanted to liberate it from the US war.” When peace dialogue between the government and the Taliban was underway, Mr Khan even urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to allow the Taliban to open an office in the country. Moreover, Mr Khan, despite having a provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has failed to impart good governance in the province. As a result, such incidents continue to take place. Had Mr Khan focused and imparted good governance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the massacre of so many schoolchildren could have been thwarted. Instead, he was busy taking out rallies and marching in Punjab and Sindh against the government, bringing much havoc to the country economically.

In these circumstances, it becomes the responsibility of the federal as well as the provincial governments to bring to book and deal with the perpetrators with an iron fist. They should work together to curb extremism right from the grassroots level before everything goes out of control.

The author is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta. He blogs at http://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com and tweets @Akbar_notezai. He can be reached at akbar.notezai@gmail.com

(Courtesy to: Daily Times)

Interview: The India-Pakistan Water Dispute


Can the decades-long tensions over access to diminishing water resources ever be solved?

Muhammad Akbar Notezai speaks with New Delhi-based freelance journalist and scholar Amit Ranjan on South Asian water issues, the Indus Waters Treaty, and Pakistan’s water crisis.

How do you view the water dispute between India and Pakistan?

The water dispute between India and Pakistan is serious not only because of water, but also due to the political rivalry between the two countries. Their rivalry made things more complicated than they really are. The water dispute between them started soon after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Until the Indus Waters Treaty, arrangements  to share east and west flowing rivers were ad hoc.

Unfortunately, over the years the IWT, too, has failed to pacify the water conflict. Hindu right-wing groups in India call on [the government] to stop flow of water to Pakistan or flood it. In the meantime, Islamic radicals in Pakistan call for water jihad against India. Moreover, the water dispute between the two countries is embedded in their political relationship.

Pakistani Islamic radicals must realize that their water security depends on India given that Pakistan is a lower riparian. And their water jihad will only damage their national interest as well as their agriculture-based economy.

As far as the Hindu right-wing groups are concerned, they must also remember that India cannot unilaterally abandon a treaty mediated by the World Bank. Nations must abide by the treaties they have signed with each other.

Do you think the Indus Waters Treaty served the interests of India and Pakistan?

Yes. At the time, it was the best the two countries could get. It took eight years of negotiations to reach a conclusion both accepted. The IWT is not the best treaty, but it is the best treaty the two rival countries could get. Over time, things have changed because of growing water pressure on the both countries. To address the current situation, a few amendments are needed, but cannot be made because of bilateral tensions and intermittent conflicts.

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif has said that the Indus Waters Treaty is not in Pakistan’s interest. Is his objection valid?

Khwaja Asif may say that but he must realize that the IWT is going to remain. Neither country can scrap it unilaterally. So, instead of making the cry that it is not in the interests of Pakistan, he should improve Pakistan’s management system and try to engage with India to make the IWT a source of cooperation instead of conflict. As has been said, both countries are destined by geography to live together and share resources. It is up to them how they do it. To date, they have fought and gained nothing. In the future, they will fight again and will gain nothing. This sounds cynical but it is true.

Pakistani officials say that India has violated the Indus Waters Treaty many times by constructing 3200 dams and barrages on the river Jhelum, which deprives Pakistan of this major source. What are your thoughts?

Not only India but all upper riparian states try to make maximum use of water in their catchment areas. This does leads to problems in lower riparian areas. Generally, when the two riparian states have good relations, these problems are resolved through negotiations. Under the IWT, India can use 1.50 MAF of water from Jhelum for its own use to fulfill the demands of catchment areas. This gives it the right to construct run-of-river multi-purpose projects. The problem here is how much water is being diverted through those projects and in which season. These two factors are what leave Pakistan feeling aggrieved.

In 2010, when the two countries had relatively good bilateral relations, India allowed Pakistan to inspect several Indian hydro-power projects then under construction on the western rivers. The two countries also agreed to set up a telemetry system to measure river flows.

How much impact do you think the water dispute has had on ties between India and Pakistan?

As Stanley Wolpert wrote: “In 1947, India and Pakistan were born to conflict.” I would suggest that it is many other conflicts that have had an impact on the India-Pakistan water relationship. Also, the entire Kashmir issue is being seen through the prism of water resources. For example, in 1948, Pakistan wanted Kashmir partly for its water security. Ayub Khan has mentioned this in his book. Today there is no change in Pakistan’s position. But yes, when other conflicts are being discussed or taken into account by the two governments, the water issue certainly exacerbates the degree of conflict.

What do you think are the factors behind Pakistan’s water crisis? And why is India not to be blamed?

Being a weak lower riparian is certainly one reason for Pakistan’s water woes. Also, Pakistan does not have a good supply side management structure, which means it loses 35 percent of its water resources. There is also an imbalance in the distribution of water in Pakistan. Punjab diverts more water to its region than others. This is because of the Punjabization of Pakistan, which is still strong.

Some analysts worry that the diminishing availability of water may actually culminate in a war between India and Pakistan in the future. What are your thoughts about this?

Of course, water stress will certainly lead to tensions between India and Pakistan. But it will not lead to a full blown water war between them. As both countries are suffering from water stress, they are taking steps in areas such as drip-in irrigation, desalination plants, and adaptation. But as I have said, water issues will emerge again and again between them because of political reasons.

If border skirmishes escalate or an all-out war takes place between them, the water issue can be counted as a factor but not the sole reason. Not just water stress, even floods create tensions between them. Due to climate change and deficiencies in supply side management, the intermittent floods are causing destruction to the lives and properties of people living in the catchment areas of the Indus Rivers System. These floods could be controlled if the two countries cooperated. The IWT has not talked about such cooperation but there are provisions in articles IV and VII that, if used, could help them in controlling destruction caused by floods.

What do you think India and Pakistan need to do to resolve their water dispute?

The water that was partitioned in 1960 has to be viewed as a single unit and a plan developed to utilize the resources objectively for the benefit of people living in the catchment areas. This is only possible when relations are cordial.

The Indus Water Commissioners meet regularly and the institutions are active but trust is absent. It is important to build that trust to resolve the water issues. There is also a need to change the water narrative. Instead of always calling it a cause of conflict, one must start calling it a source of cooperation. This may not have a major impact but it could certainly change the thinking for the better.

(Courtesy to: The Diplomat)

Factionalism Has Always Marked National Struggles: A Reply To Malik Siraj Akbar


By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

On November 3, 2014, Malik Siraj Akbar, a Baloch journalist settled in the USA, critically analysed the Baloch nationalist movement in his piece on Huffington Post blogs. Titled, “The end of Pakistan’s Baloch insurgency?”, this essay deserves attention for bringing the Baloch nationalist movement into global focus. However, in my opinion, that is, perhaps, the only merit of his blog post. Even its very title seems immature, raw and unidimensional.

To start with, Siraj Akbar circumscribes and reduces the long history of Baloch nationalism to the armed struggle, which, according to him, began in 2004. He completely overlooks the roots of the Baloch nationalism that reach back to the British encounter in 1839. In fact, some Baloch intellectuals go even further back in history in tracing the roots of modern Baloch nationalism, claiming that Balochs have always resisted foreign invasions and defended their land, language, culture, literature and resources. This resistance continues today.

However, even as the Balochs fought British colonialism tooth and nail, the assaults by the colonial power proved devastating for them after 1839. The infighting and divisions among the warring Baloch guerillas, which Siraj Akbar discusses in his piece about present day Balochistan, marked the struggle back in the 19th century as well.

It has been claimed that the Marri guerillas engaged the British colonial troops in 400 skirmishes. Besides the armed struggle, journalists and intellectuals such as Mir Yousaf Aziz Magsi, Mir Abdul Aziz Kurd and Mohammad Hussain Anka, educated the middle class Balochs through the press and their various publications. That is why they faced the wrath of the British colonial government, which imprisoned and incarcerated them on many occasions. The struggle for Baloch rights gradually and slowly continued till 1947 when the Partition of India resulted in the birth of Pakistan.

This phase of Baloch resistance finds absolutely no mention in Siraj Akbar’s piece. On March 27, 1948, when the Khan of Kalat affixed his signature to the Agreement of Accession to Pakistan, his brother Prince Abdul Karim revolted with his 700-strong militia force. He did not accept the Agreement of Accession. So, suspicion and frustration over the Agreement of Accession provided an impetus to a long-lasting Baloch struggle in Pakistan. Prince Karim’s armed struggle, however, was confined to Kalat. The other front of the Baloch struggle was the district Khuzdar. It was led by chief of Zehri tribe, Nawab Nauroz Khan Zehri. These two fronts, however, remained relatively isolated from each other.

The second phase of the Baloch movement was catalyzed by the imposition of the One Unit in 1955. Under the One Unit, all the provinces of West Pakistan were merged into One Unit.The third phase of the movement commenced in 1962, led by Marxist guerilla Sher Mohammad Marri alias General Sherof. The impetus was the Pakistani intention of establishing military bases in Balochistan. This struggle too, however, remained confined to the Marri areas. Yet it did much to popularize Marxist ideology in Balochistan.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw peaceful political activities gaining momentum in Balochistan. This is the period when the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO), was founded, which further popularized Marxist ideas in Balochistan. When elections were held, the Baloch nationalists formed the first ever democratically elected government in Balochistan in 1972.

This was, however, not to last long. Under false pretenses, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto undemocratically toppled Balochistan’s first elected government incarcerating and torturing seasoned Baloch politicians, intellectuals and writers under the so-called Hyderabad Conspiracy Case. This led to the fourth phase of the armed conflict in Balochistan. This time, the resistance was fierce in the Marri areas. Compared to previous phases, this phase was much more organized. The period, however, also saw grave differences arising between leadersNawab Khair Baksh Marri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Sher Mohammad Marri, the Marxist guerilla fighter of the 1962-1968, sided with Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. Despite their common Marxist antecedents, they continued to be at loggerheads. Yet, despite these differences, the resistance continued.

Gradually, in the 1980s, more Balochs got active in politics and subsequently a few Baloch political projects were initiated. Sardar Attah Ullah Mengal, for instance, after his return to Balochistan in 1995, formed the Balochistan National Party (BNP). It soon emerged as Balochistan’s largest political party. It formed provincial government in Balochistan in 1997, headed by Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal. However, his government, only after nine months in power, was removed by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998.  This undemocratic move contributed to the alienation of Balochs. The situation was further aggravated when Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, in 2000, under the Musharraf dictatorship, was arrested.

These events led to the fifth phase of the armed struggle. Post-2000, the situation took an even uglier turn. Nawab Bugti’s assassination in 2006 and Balach Marri’s murder in 2007 fueled further conflict. Since then, the resistance has only grown in strength.In the past, the various movements for resistance were led by the tribal chieftains. This was one reason for the fractious nature of the struggle. Today instead the struggle has evolved into a national movement and is led by a nationalist vision.

At the same time, there is no doubt that infighting and discord among various factions of the nationalist movement continue to mark Baloch resistance.  Siraj Akbar claims that “frustration, suspicion, infighting and division are the common features of the end of a guerilla fight.” These features, however, are not unique to Balochistan. Indeed they have been evident in the case of Palestine ever since the 1930s. Kashmir and Kurdistan can also be mentioned in this context. In South Africa, ANC suffered splits and factionalism. Moreover, this infighting has been a constant part of the Balochistan resistance movement. How can Siraj Akbar then claim that the present schism in Baloch underground organizations will lead to an end of insurgency now, when the conditions that first gave birth to militancy are yet to be addressed?

What is even more unfortunate in Siraj Akbar’s essay is the parallels he draws between the Baloch insurgency and Talibanization. He has, in his previous writings, described Talibanization as the “by-product of the establishment”. Before drawing the unfortunate comparison, he should have at least taken a look at the co-educational schools in his hometown, Panjgur, which have been forcibly closed by the Taliban.

On the one hand Siraj Akbar claims that the current Baloch struggle has drawn more international attention than any previous struggle. On the other hand states that Baloch insurgents appear frustrated over the lack of international support for the current movement. This clearly exemplifies the contradiction in his argument.

He further writes, “Islamabad carried out military operations, bought the loyalties of rival chiefs or empowered the so-called moderate leadership of the Baloch and also sponsored religious extremist groups in order to counter the Baloch nationalists. All these policies failed to completely uproot the resistance in the mineral-rich region.” Despite declaring these attempts as failures, he then writes that the Baloch fighters are jaded by moderate political parties such as the ruling National Party of Dr. Malik Baloch.

There are a few more points in his essay that one can argue about. However, let me conclude by saying that a well-informed journalist should at the very least not twist facts regardless of whatever views he or she holds. We can argue about the prospects of ongoing guerrilla movement in Balochistan. However, let us not decontexulize it. Also, let us respect the facts.

(Courtesy to: Viewpoint Online)

The dilemma of Balochistan’s Zikris


The dilemma of Balochistan’s Zikris

Muhammad Akbar Notezai

Having lived with the Baloch for centuries, members of the obscure Zikri sect are leaving in fear

The dilemma of Balochistan’s Zikris


The recent threats to Balochistan’s Zikri community are compelling a large number of its followers to leave the province.

On August 28, six Zikris were shot dead in their place of worship in Awaran district by unidentified assailants. In July, Zikri passengers of a bus were attacked in Khuzdar district of Balochistan. Seven of them were injured.

“Before the attack in Awaran, threatening messages were inscribed on the walls in the area, said a local resident. “The messages, signed by Lashkar-e-Khorasan, asked Zikris and Hindus to convert to Sunni Islam or die.”

An off-shoot of the Mahdavi community, the Zikris live mostly in Balochistan’s Makran division. They also have a considerable population in interior Sindh, Seistan Balochistan, Karachi, and other parts of the Balochistan province. According to unofficial estimates, the global population of the community is 750,000, most of which resides in Balochistan.

Zikris are followers of the Indian Sufi Syed Muhammad Jaunpuri. According to them, Jaunpuri founded the sect in the 15th Century when he claimed to be a Mahdi. The Zikri offshoot of his followers flourished in Balochistan in the 16th century. There is very little historical evidence of their arrival or history in Balochistan, but Mullah Murad is reputed to be the first local apostle of this sect. Some writers say they migrated with him from Hyderabad, now in India, where they were not allowed to practice their faith. Other scholars claim he came from Persia, because a considerable number of Zikris also dwell in Iranian Balochistan. Most of the Zikris in Makran are fishermen.

The Zikris have been living peacefully and harmoniously with the rest of the Baloch for centuries, who they call ‘Nimazi’. “They even have marital relations with the majority Baloch,” according to Dr Shah Mohammad Marri. “In some families in Makran, the mother is a Zikri and the father is a Nimazi Baloch.” A local Zikri said such ties were becoming rare because of discrimination against the community.

Koh-e-Murad in Turbat, Balochistan

The first major attack on the Zikris in the history was orchestrated by Nasir Khan, the Khan of Kalat from 1749 to 1794, who progressive writers call the most “fundamentalist ruler” in Balochistan’s history. He invaded Makran, which was under the rule of Zikri Buledi rulers at that time. “He was not only vicious to Zikris due to their beliefs, but also to Hindus whom he treated badly,” says Dr Marri. Siddique Baloch, a veteran journalist based in Quetta, says that Nasir Khan also started a movement to convert all Zikris to Sunni.

In the era of military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq, Zikris suffered because of their faith again. Hundreds of Zikris were killed by one Shahmurad in the Zia regime, they community claims.

“The messages asked Zikris and Hindus to convert to Sunni Islam or die”

“Shahmurad was a Nimazi Baloch who first threatened Zikris in Panjgur who were forced to migrate,” a Zikri Baloch said, asking not to be named because of concerns for his safety. “Subsequently, he massacred Zikris in Turbat when they refused to convert to Sunni Islam.”

According to the Zikris, religious extremists tried to uproot one of their sacred sites in Turbat in 1992. But the Baloch Students Organization resisted the move, they say, and foiled the attempt. Zikris say incidents of discrimination against them are however becoming frequent in the Baloch society.

But Baloch nationalists say the sect is being targeted because they fight for Balochistan’s rights.

“You cannot differentiate between the Zikri and Nimazi Baloch. They are one. And they have been living together for centuries,” says Rafique Khosa, a senior Baloch politician. “What is happening right now is a deliberate attempt to mar the secular face of Baloch nationalism.”

“Zikris are not an organized sect,” says Dr Marri, “but they may evolve into one because of the oppression against them.” More than 90 percent of them are poor, adds the analyst, who has visited their sacred religious site at Koh-e-Murad in Turbat.

Regardless of who is behind the attacks on Zikris, Balochistan has become increasingly insecure for religious minorities. In a recent report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated that 400 members of the sect had left Balochistan in fear.

(Courtesy: The Friday Times)