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Editorial: What Does it Mean to be a Baloch Suicide Bomber?

By Malik Siraj Akbar

Friday’s suicide bombing outside the residence of Mir Shafiq Mengal, the son of a former interim chief minister, which killed at least fifteen people and injured thirty others, leaves us with absolutely murky prospects of peace in Balochistan in the upcoming year 2012. While for the rest of the country it was a routine bomb blast, historians and experts on Balochistan must bookmark today’s newspaper pages for future references.

For the first time in its history, the secular nationalist outfit Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has carried out a ‘successful’ suicide bombing. Government authorities in Quetta refuse to agree that it was a suicide blast while one sees expression of tremendous jubilation on Twitter and Facebook pages of young supporters of the nationalist movement. Reactions by young Balochs are similar to what we witnessed in May 1998 when Pakistanis celebrated the successful detonation of nuclear weapons in Balochistan’s Chagi district. One feels that the elated Baloch activists are marking the day as if they have invented or acquired a new weapon to sustain and advance their separatist resistance movement against Pakistan.

On its part, the government and media outlets supportive of former’s policies have deliberately excluded the ‘suicide’ prefix of the bombing in their news dispatches. The government believes suicide bombings, once they start, do not stop easily and they further collapse the already existing poor security apparatus.Pakistani security forces have been remarkably demoralized in recent years while fruitlessly endeavoring to grapple with the phenomenon of countrywide suicide bombings carried out by Islamic fundamentalist groups.Therefore, confirming the occurrence of a suicide blast planned by nationalists for the police means to officially announce the inception of a new chapter of violence, chaos and lawlessness. The pro-government media has also tried to help the officials in their damage control efforts by not clearly confirming the involvement of Baloch nationalists in a case of suicide bombing.

So, what does it mean to be a Baloch suicide bomber and what does it entail for the future of the province? What is going to happen to the nationalist movement if Islamabad takes a few weeks to investigate the bombing and then comes up with staggering “revelations” that Baloch nationalists are “linked” with Islamic terrorist groups? Will that make it easier and more legitimate for Islamabad to bomb Baloch towns under the pretext of executing the war on terror? While these questions will surely be debated in the coming weeks, we still have to wait for more details from the BLA about its future operations and also from the government about its reaction and response mechanism against the rise of this new phenomenon.

A more important question which merits debate is whether suicide bombing is solely used by Islamic radical groups as a tool to spread terror and pressurize their opponents. A lot of people will respond affirmatively if they have deeply read the post-9/11 counter-terrorism literature. But this does not match the reality as secular nationalist movements in many parts of the world have historically used suicide bombings as a strong weapon against their opponents.

Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who has closely observed every terrorist attack in the world from 1980 to early 2004, says more than half of all suicide attacks were carried out by secular groups and individuals.

“In fact, the world’s leader in suicide terrorism was the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist group that is completely secular and that recruits from Hindus. More than a third of all suicide attacks by Muslims were also carried out by secular groups, such as the Kurdish PKK in Turkey and the Communist Party in Lebanon.”

Dr. Pape, who is also the author of the book on suicide bombings Dying to Win, further says, “what more than 95 per cent of all suicide terrorist attacks around the world have in common is not religion, but a specific political goal to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, the central objective of every suicide terrorist campaign since 1980 has been to compel a democratic state with military forces on territory that the terrorists prize to take those forces out.”

BLA’s claim that Friday’s bombing was carried out by a member of its Majeed Brigade takes us back to the history of Baloch nationalist movement when a young Baloch with the same name had made a failed suicide attempt on former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. On August 2, 1974, the young boy from Mastung District [see the editorial picture], Abdul Majeed Baloch, lost his own life while trying to assassinate Mr. Bhutto with a hand grenade. He wanted to avenge the killing of thousands of Balochs in a military operation unleashed by Bhutto after dismissing the first ever elected government of the province. Since then, Majeed has been treated as a national hero and a martyr of the Baloch nationalist movement.

Suicide bombings rise in societies where the supporters of such operations believe injustices against them have reached the peak. When injustice and brutality replaces hope and conflict resolution, suicide bombings find their way as an alternative form of resistance. We knew that Balochs would one day run out of patience after becoming tired of receiving the bullet-riddled dead bodies of their loved ones. What else were we expecting in an unjust society where the country’s army, which is supposed to be the defender of the population, is directly blamed for ‘kill and dump’ operations and the Supreme Court does not show modicum of interest in providing justice to the Baloch?

As far as the BLA is concerned, it should also pause and think for a while before choosing for such a self-destructive option. Similar to its name, “suicide” bombing also leads to the political suicide of some of the strongest political movements. Such bombings brutally and indiscriminately kill innocent people. They spread terror at public places and claim lives of women, children, elderly and all those unarmed civilians who have no remote connection with the government policies and actions.

Every progressive or conservative movement offers some kind of ‘hope’ to its supporters. It is hope that leads to the success of some flawed and conservative movements. Why did the Taliban succeed in coming to power in Afghanistan? Because they promised peace and ‘justice’ to their people. Although their regime was subsequently marked with unprecedented violations of human rights, they reflect one dimension of public aspirations and expectations when they decide to support a movement.

Many Balochs look at the BLA and other political stakeholders as forces which will one day bring them justice. A poor and hungry Baloch would continue to support the nationalist movement as long as it offers him/ her promising economic prospects and equality. But if the very people in the streets of Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan become victims of Baloch operations, they will understandably unsubscribe their moral support. By the end of the day, they will become weary of nationalistic politics and get back to the government for assistance against the very people whom they once looked as a sign of hope.

Baloch nationalist organizations should learn lessons from the mistakes the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) made. With an annual revenue of $300 million, the LTTE was the world’s richest resistance force. It also enjoyed remarkable support from some neighboring and a few European nations. Yet, overconfidence and excessive violations of human rights led to the unpopularity of the movement and its eventual defeat.

After the May 2nd raid which killed Osama bin Laden, Balochs had an extraordinary opportunity to reach out for international support. Islamabad has annoyed many civilized countries of the world, including the United States, because of its not-so-covert support to Islamic terrorist groups. If the Baloch leadership and diaspora engages in peaceful advocacy and political dialogue with the world community, they can achieve remarkable success. On the contrary, suicide attacks can turn out to be so destructive that they will provide Islamabad a chance to divert the attention of international community from its own support to Islamic radical groups and misleadingly force the world to designate Baloch resistance groups as terrorist outfits.

Malik Siraj Akbar is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC and Editor-in-Chief of The Baloch Hal

Faiz Baluch