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Afghan Taliban turns Quetta to a safe heaven

By Kiyya Baloch

Talibanisation is gaining momentum in South Western Balochistan province and has reached a dangerous level in the region. The Tehreek Taliban Pakistan, Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have joined hands with each other, in a move seen as extremely harmful for the region in the near future as Western troops prepare to leave the war-torn nation.

This was stated by a senior law maker of Balochistan provincial assembly while talking to this scribe. He claimed the law and order situation in the insurgency hit Pakistani province of Balochistan province will soon take a new direction after the withdrawal of the NATO forces in the neighboring country. He informed that most of the ethnic Pashthun districts in particular Zhob, Ziarat and Lorlahi in Balochistan are under the control of the Taliban where Talibanisation is rapidly increasing.

He said that every month more than 100 male students of religious schools in Balochistan from Pashthun populated areas are recruited by the Taliban and are sent to Afghanistan to wage guerrilla warfare, “Militants with close links to the Afghan Taliban send people on regular basis from Islamic seminaries to engage in jihad (holy war), and a number of such students have been killed in recent months fighting beside the Taliban in Afghanistan. he said “We have reports that some religious schools at the primary and secondary level, in different areas of Balochistan – including Pashin Kuchlak, Balleli, Noshki, Mastung, Zhob Loralai Qila Abdullah and Qila Saifullah – have become fertile recruiting grounds for the Taliban and promote fundamentalist militant ideology,” an official from Quetta police department agreeing with law makers opinion said on condition of anonymity adding that “In Balochistan, the Afghan Taliban has the … support of those Islamic seminaries run by Afghan refugees living here over the last 30 years. The education received in such madrasas (seminaries) contributes to the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan.”

The police official informed that a few madrasas in Kharotabad area of the provincial capital also provides ‘free’ accommodation to these militants. “They move freely as if to defy invisible observers, who they think are keeping a watch over them, making it obvious to them that Kharotabad is a safe haven for the Taliban.” He added.

Sharing the details of the madrassas an official from province education department tells around 2,500 madrasas are registered with the Balochistan government, and the number of unregistered seminaries lies at more than 10,000. “Most of them are located in the areas bordering Afghanistan,” He said.

“The attacks on Hazara minorities and increasing violence against Shiite pilgrims in the Pakistani troubled province highlights both the failure of madrasa reform and the need to restart the process of registering and monitoring these religious schools,” the official said.

Shockingly, neither districts administration nor the provincial government is incognizant of the actual number of students enrolled with some 10,000 unregistered seminaries across the province.

Regarding the increasing number of unregistered religious schools provincial government spokesman said that only those religious schools are registered which meet the requirements of the administration and commented that those unregistered have no proper land lease and rental documents.

But the law maker of the provincial assembly fears that the presence of 10,000 unregistered Islamic seminaries in Balochistan province where around some 28,570 unidentified students hailing from Afghanistan and other parts of Pakistan are studying which he says is a matter of grave concern adding reports of different investigation agencies suggested that majority of terrorist activities either target killings, high profile civilians, kidnapping for ransom or deadly bombings across boarder on NATO and ISAF forces are committed by children of religious schools.

“Actually we have learned that those operating religious schools in Balochistan are quick to supply students whenever the Afghan Taliban need for street fighting in Afghanistan with NATO forces” The minister added.

It is worth mentioning here that Quetta which is about 80 km (50 miles) from the Afghanistan border is home to several thousand Afghan refugees. Pashtun tribes in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s ethnic and spiritual base, have strong ties with those on the Pakistan side. They are intermarried, they have Pakistani ID cards, and no difference exists between them.

The law maker acknowledged that due to cross boarder ties they have turned the area into a sanctuary for the Taliban leaders, who are known collectively as the Quetta Shura.

He said Pakistani officials, in turn have repeatedly been accused by Kabul for allowing the Taliban movement to regroup in the Quetta area, viewing it as a strategic asset rather than a domestic threat, while the Pakistan army and American forces have been heavily focused on curbing violent Islamist extremists in the northwest border region hundreds of miles away.

Kiyya Baloch is a freelance journalist associated with Daily Times Lahore currently based in Islamabad.He reports on Foreign Affairs, Baloch insurgency, militancy and secretion violence in Balochistan