The murder of Balochistan’s coal miners reveals weak institutional integrity in Pakistan
In a senseless attack, a group of militants attacked and killed as many as 11 laborers working in remote coal mines in Balochistan in the early hours of Sunday. Four others were seriously wounded.
The miners were picked up, taken away, their hands tied behind their backs, and then were shot in the nearby mountains. All belonged to the minority Hazara tribe—who mostly belong to the Shia sect. The killing sent shock waves of fear and anger across the country. Daesh has accepted responsibility, but more details are awaited.
This is not the first time such violence has occurred in the country. Minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus and Sikhs, have never felt safe because of weak government institutions and the absence of institutionalized accountability.
Reports have been pouring in from parts of southern Sindh province of the forced conversions of Hindu men and women. It is no wonder thousands of Hindu families have been leaving the country in the past several years and seeking new lives.
The coal miners’ killing is a manifestation of the lack or absence of the writ of the government, and evidence of the worsening security environment in the country. At the root of the malaise is the feeling that it is possible to simply ‘get away’ with committing horrendous crimes, given the weak and faltering system of law enforcement, prosecution and conviction.
The government in Islamabad is not really focused on institution building or the delivery of speedy justice. The focus instead has been on vendetta, revenge, chasing and humiliating political opponents. This has generated adequate space for militants and criminals to launch attacks in an atmosphere of relative safety.
The coal miners’ killing is a manifestation of the lack or absence of the writ of the government, and evidence of the worsening security environment in the country. At the root of the malaise is the feeling that it is possible to simply ‘get away’ with committing horrendous crimes.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
Balochistan is becoming an epicenter of militancy for several reasons. The Baloch majority in the province has been complaining of a lack of access to resources. There is a palpable feeling of alienation because they accuse Islamabad of not giving them a fair share of the revenues that accrue from resources such as gas extracted from their areas.
The CPEC, or China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is a multibillion-dollar project that aims to connect the port of Gawadar to China and create a huge infrastructure of roads and factories to boost trade and create thousands of jobs. Balochis believe they are being excluded from participation in this huge and historical enterprise. Then there is the foreign-interference factor. Many point a finger at the involvement of India in the attacks on government forces and installations ---all aimed at destabilizing a geo-strategic region.
CPEC, its success and its impact on the economy and jobs has not been welcomed by Pakistan’s adversaries. Islamabad getting closer still to China is viewed unfavourably, and there appears to be an effort to cause obstacles in the smooth execution of projects linked to CPEC. The best way to do that is to create panic and instability.
Islamabad will have to address the many grievances of Balochis and other ethnicities in order to create a more harmonious environment for the socio-economic emancipation of its impoverished people.
The attack on the coal miners has caused distress and anxiety in other parts of the country. A few days ago, a Hindu shrine in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was vandalized and set on fire. The pervasive feeling of insecurity among ethnic minorities does not augur well for peace and progress. There is a need for course correction and deep introspection.
Providing protection and security to its citizens is the fundamental responsibility of any state. That includes all ethnic and religious minorities. A failure to safeguard minorities is a failure of systems.
At least one sure way of accomplishing the objective of transformation of systems is to strengthen institutions so that people have faith in the integrity of the state. Such institutions operate sans any political interference, which is a malady in Pakistan that has not been addressed despite tall claims to the contrary.
– Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist in Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held the position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.