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Hazarganji market blast: Tracing the roots of proxy warfare in Baluchistan

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The Hazara community’s protest against the violent suicide attack at Hazar Ganji market, which claimed the lives of over 20 people, including eight members of the Hazara community, 1 FC soldier and Pashtuns amongst other locals, entered its fourth day. The protestors, who were joined by Hazara activists, Baloch leaders, and other political workers on Saturday, have decided to continue their protest despite the assurances provided by Federal and Provincial ministers of effective implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) and swift action against terror outfits.

The protests now sit at the western bypass, resolute in their demands for justice against the brutal killing of over 1000 members of the Hazara community martyred during the horrifying reign of terror in Quetta, and those martyred and injured in the recent suicide attack. The protestors are withstanding rain and harsh weather conditions, while the western bypass, which connects Quetta with all the integral highways, remains blocked with gigantic boulders, burnt tyres, and barricades.

Who is Responsible?

For the past three days, a video is circulating on social media that has brought forward a strikingly astonishing narrative being promoted in the Hazara community. The video reveals a Hazara elder, amidst a series of largely justified demands of his community, lamenting the state for engaging in “war politics” and sponsoring terror outfits, which has had hazardous consequences and led to the target killing of Hazaras.

The narrative war has been lost, and there is utter confusion as analysts sitting in Islamabad comment on Balochistan in a very narrow prism.

Earlier this week, there were multiple conflicting reports about which terror outfit had claimed responsibility for this heinous attack. Several international and local media outlets, including CNN and Dawn, reported that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had jointly carried out this attack with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operatives, led by their Qari Saifullah.

However, on Saturday, the TTB spokesperson, Mohammad Khurasani, released a statement denying all links to the suicide attack in Quetta and lamented the media for releasing false news related to the banned outfit.  It is interesting to note that the CNN article, published a day prior to the official statement by TTP, cited Qari Saifullah’s statement, given to their team, “We claim responsibility for the attack in Quetta. We targeted the Hazara community.”

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Shortly after, the attack was reportedly claimed by the Islamic State through their official media channel, claiming responsibility for 70 dead and injured, and they confirmed that the attack indeed targeted the Hazara community. The official statement of the Islamic State went onto identify the suicide bomber as Usman al-Balushi.

The Dynamics of Proxy Warfare

Commenting on the role of the Islamic State and the dynamics of proxy warfare in Balochistan, Jan Achakzai, Geo-Strategist and Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics of Balochistan, observed that ISIS is merely a tool for the aggressive powers. Achakzai noted, “ISIS is basically a proxy used by different forces, from Israel and US in Syria to India in Afghanistan”. He added that the heinous suicide attack that has recently shaken Quetta also claimed the lives of over 12 non-Hazaras and pointed out that every Pakistani is a victim of terrorism regardless of the ethnic backgrounds.

A video is circulating on social media that has brought forward a strikingly astonishing narrative being promoted in the Hazara community.

Achakzai highlighted that earlier we witnessed an attack on Pashtuns, followed by an attack on the Quetta-bound Jafar Express. Achakzai noted that there are three proxies targeting Pakistan mainly operating out of Afghanistan, “The ethnic Baloch nationalists, which are being run and operated by India through sanctuaries in Afghanistan, the leftover TTP, again operated by India out of Afghanistan and the third is the unknown entity called ISIS.

Everyone can claim to be the ISIS.” He highlighted that the TTP also claims to be ISIS, but what matters is from where ISIS is operating. For instance, Jan Achakzai added that if it is operating in Syria, is it is directed mainly by Israel and the US and if operating in Afghanistan, it is guided by Indian ambitions.

Read more: COAS Gen Bajwa steps in to address grievances of Hazara community

Jan Achakzai explained that a foot soldier, or the suicide bomber in this case, is just the end-outcome, prior to staging the attack, the operating force needs to recruit key personnel for leadership roles, logistic providence and assistance. “The whole process would take at least three months. Their drivers are not local but those who seek geopolitical advantages”. He added that India has, time and again, stated that they are non-conventionally interfering in Afghanistan.

Commenting on the dynamics of recruitment of local terror networks, Achakzai explained “Since the sponsors are the same, it serves their purpose to practically align the TTP and the Baloch separatists, since the former has suicide bombers, they can both facilitate one another in logistics, weapons and training carrying out such attacks. They have joined forces because their sponsors want them to make a powerful impact”. He highlighted that be it ISIS, TTP or Baloch separatists, “they are all the same with different names and tags”.

Read more: Who is behind the target killing of Shia Hazara community?

Left Accusing State of Sponsoring Terrorism: Promoting Western Agenda?

While commenting on the sharp criticism emerging from leftist commentators, activists and analysts on the state’s failure to curb terrorism, Achakzai observed, “Unfortunately, our leftist and rightist do not acknowledge that India is destabilizing Pakistan, and they (India) have openly admitted.” In response to a question on the possibility of an engineered campaign against the army’s fight against terrorism and similarity of slogans observed during the Hazara sit-in and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement rallies, Jan Achakzai highlighted that the problem is “two-fold”.

Achakzai noted, “ISIS is basically a proxy used by different forces, from Israel and US in Syria to India in Afghanistan”.

He explained that the Pakistani military and law enforcement agencies are fully capable of fighting off these proxy warfare initiatives by India, as seen in the successful elimination of the TTP from Waziristan, Swat and Balochistan. However, he noted that the army cannot be responsible for the governance of the province, the providence of jobs and eradicating poverty, handling the youth bulge etc.

“This provides a breeding ground to useful deviants who become suicide bombers, fuelling the agenda of PTM and social activists, like Jibran Nasir and the rest of the mafia exploit all these killings”. He observed that the “counter-narrative is weak” and the Pakistani media is dominated by anti-state publishers while nationalist writers do not have adequate space on media platforms. “The narrative war has been lost, and there is utter confusion as analysts sitting in Islamabad comment on Balochistan in a very narrow prism.”

Read more: Thousands of Afghans flee fighting in Hazara districts

Jan Achakzai added that any killing against any community, be it the Hazara community in Quetta, ethnic communities in Waziristan, KP or South Punjab, law enforcement agencies have a duty to be equally concerned and alarmed instead of making it a campaign centered on one community in a manner that promotes ethnic divisions.

Jan Achakzai explained that a foot soldier, or the suicide bomber in this case, is just the end-outcome, prior to staging the attack, the operating force needs to recruit key personnel for leadership roles.

While commenting on the PTM’s bid to align itself with the Hazara community and the outcry against “state’s sponsoring of terrorism and target ethnic killing” in a bid to win over more constituencies and solidify its political support, Jan Achakzai observed, “Of course, it is an opportunity for them to exploit, be relevant and appease their sponsors.” He added that this is the only way they can implicate the law enforcement agencies by twisting the narrative and cash on this opportunity. He noted, ‘They have nothing to do with the Pashtuns or the Hazaras. Pashtuns and Hazaras are being killed in Afghanistan but they have never condemned it. ISIS is killing Hazaras rampantly in Afghanistan, and yet Jibran (Nasir) never said anything against it.”

Read more: Hazara protest continues: Govt. assures implementation of NAP & enhanced security

He highlighted that the political parties and social activists who exploit such incidents are being promoted to put forward a narrative that highlights ethnic divisions. In the presence of narrative twisters and exploiters like Jibran Nasir and PTM amongst others who create confusion amongst general public on who is to blame for what, Jan Achakzai stressed that the law enforcement agencies and the ISPR to shape up their narrative war strategy and encourage nationalist writers, analysts and opinion-makers by placing them on mainstream media manner. “They must highlight these facts in a systematic manner so we do not lose the bigger picture”.

Earlier today, Dunya News, without citing its sources, reported that Imran Khan will be visiting the Hazarganji protest to personally address the concerns of the Hazara community and assure them of the government’s commitment to ensuring their security and implementation of the National Action Plan.

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