Security officials cordon off an area after a bomb blast in Quetta, Baluchistan in August last year. Photo: iStock
Quetta, Balochistan in August last year. Photo: iStock

Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province of Balochistan, is facing chaos once again. Members of the Hazara community protested at three different places in Quetta last week after four targeted killing incidents against the community in the month of April alone.

Hazara activists held a hunger-strike camp and a general strike was also called in Quetta. The chief of the Pakistan Army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal flew to Quetta to pacify the protesting Hazara community.

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A man mourns the death of relative at a hospital after assailants opened fire at an electronics shop in Quetta on April 28.

The Hazaras are an ethnic as well as religious minority community settled in Quetta, and their origins can be traced back to Central Asia. They are third-largest ethnicity in Afghanistan. Hazaras have been enduring violent attacks in Balochistan since 2002 because of their faith and easily recognizable facial features.

More than 500 Hazaras were killed in the period between 2008 and 2013, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. The year 2013 was bloodiest for the beleaguered Hazara community. In January that year a suicide blast killed 81 people, mostly Hazaras, and another suicide blast the following month took the lives of 63 people in a Hazara locality of Quetta.

However, the attacks on the Hazara community did not die out completely in the coming years. According to a report of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in Pakistan, 509 members of the Hazara community were killed and 627 injured between 2012 and 2017.

But Hazaras are not the only minority who have been under attack in Quetta lately. Christians are also feeling the brunt of the chaotic situation there.

In April, six Christians were killed in terrorist incidents in Quetta. Last December, terrorists stormed the largest church in Quetta, killed nine and wounded dozens of people before being killed by security forces. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for attacks on Christians and this is the new strategy of ISIS to give a message to the West by shedding blood in Quetta.

It goes without saying that the Balochistan government has failed to protect the Christian and Hazara minorities of Quetta.

To tackle the security situation and the targeted killings in Quetta, security forces have achieved some level of success. In the first week of May security forces claimed they arrested one notorious terrorist and killed another in targeted operations in Quetta and Mastung, another town in Balochistan. These actions were carried out after the attacks were intensified on the Hazara community in Quetta.

The reason for the continued chaos in Quetta is that the security situation of the city is not fully under control. Given its proximity to the Afghan border and the loose spread of settlements in the city, it is very difficult to track down the terrorists.

In order to tackle this problem, the government of Balochistan initiated the Quetta Safe City project. This project consisted of installing surveillance cameras in several places and setting up strict checking mechanisms at entry points to the city. The checking system exists, but the network of surveillance cameras has not been put into operation by the government so far. This is sheer negligence of the Balochistan government, which has failed to take the required steps to protect the city of Quetta.

Quetta has become important because it is the capital of Balochistan, which is the starting point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Although Balochistan is not getting a fair share of CPEC projects, it is facing a lot of terrorist attacks because of CPEC.

When Quetta is in chaos, it gives an impression that Balochistan is not stable, and that does not bode well for the progress of CPEC. Therefore, Quetta has to be secured from all sorts of terrorist activity, and loss of life must be prevented at all costs.

Keeping Hazaras, Christians and other communities in Quetta safe will require concrete security planning. Government officials responsible for security need to be held accountable if terrorist attacks continue to take place. The traditional approach of government to brush everything under the carpet cannot work any more. Therefore, a holistic approach needs to be adopted about the security of Quetta, which needs to be centered on accountability and not mere rhetoric.

Pakistan is all set for the next general elections scheduled for August. Fair and free elections can only take place in Balochistan if major cities like Quetta are secure from terrorist activities. Therefore, the provincial government does not have much time to adopt a broad-based strategy to secure Quetta and ensure that it remains peaceful to allow the voting process to take place.

Adnan Aamir is an award-winning journalist and researcher based in Pakistan. He has written extensively on Belt and Road projects in South Asia. He regularly covers politics, economy, and conflict in Pakistan. His work has been published by Financial Times, Nikkei Asian Review, Jamestown Foundation, Lowy Institute, Dawn, The News and others. He is also the founder and editor of Balochistan Voices, a digital news publication, which covers the Balochistan province of Pakistan.

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