The secret war in Balochistan

Mourners at the funeral of Shi'ite Muslims killed in a bomb blast in Quetta.
Mourners at the funeral of Shi’ite Muslims killed in a bomb blast in Quetta.

In the aftermath of the bomb attacks in Quetta, I wrote a piece for the New Statesman explaining the situation in Balochistan, the lawless province in Pakistan’s south-west.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, making up 44 per cent of the country’s land mass, but it has the smallest population, just half that of Karachi, capital of the neighbouring Sindh. Its vast mineral riches, including gold, copper, oil, gas, platinum and coal, are largely untapped, while its deserts and long borders with Afghanistan and Iran make it an attractive terrain for unsavoury characters. Between Islamist militants, an aggressive separatist movement and a crackdown by the central government, the province is beset with violence.

You can read the rest of the piece over at the New Statesman, and the cutting is below.

balochistan cutting 1

Pakistan’s political theatre

Qadri's supporters gathered in Islamabad.
Qadri’s supporters gathered in Islamabad.

On 15 January, Tahir ul Qadri’s “long march” reached Islamabad and camped outside Parliament. While it stopped short of the 1m people he’d promised, a good 30,000 or so turned out. I wrote this blog for the New Statesman looking at the Qadri phenomenon and explaining why some people are suspicious of his motives. On the same day, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. Immediately, the talk was of a judicial coup; a power-grab by the back door. I appeared on this Monocle 24 show discussing the latest developments and what it meant for the forthcoming election. In the typical, dramatic style of Pakistani politics, the crisis was soon resolved and the election is back on track. As the dust settled, I wrote this column for the Express Tribune, exploring the underlying reasons that Qadri was able to muster so much support so quickly: deep dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole.

Other things I’ve been working on over the past few weeks include this post about the Delhi gang-rape case over at my New Statesman blog. It looks at the difficulty of translating “watershed” moments into action in a misogynist society with an under-equipped police force.

I also wrote this column for the Express Tribune about the 10 million Pakistani women missing from the electoral roll, and the challenges of getting women to the ballot box.

“I am Hazara”

A young Shi'ite girl holds a placard at a protest in Quetta, 13 January.
A young Shi’ite girl holds a placard at a protest in Quetta, 13 January.

On 10 January, two massive bombs were detonated at a snooker hall in a Hazara area of Quetta, Balochistan. Nearly 100 people died and many more were injured. It was a shocking attack against a beleagured community that led to protests all over the country against the killing of Shia’s by militants. The slogan “I am Hazara” was written on placards as an expression of solidarity. The bomb and ensuing protests eventually resulted in governor’s rule being implemented on Balochistan.

I wrote a piece for the Express Tribune outlining some background on the persecution of the Hazara community:

In the aftermath of last week’s bombs, the HRW has condemned the authorities for ‘turning a blind eye’ to the activities of militant organisations. “They [Hazaras] live in a state of siege. Stepping out of the ghetto means risking death,” the HRW’s Pakistan Director, Ali Dayan Hasan, has said. “Everyone has failed them — the security services, the government, the judiciary.” January 10’s attacks demonstrated that even staying within the ghetto is not safe: the assailants will come to them.

I also wrote an article for the Guardian about the complexity of the militant threat in Pakistan and ways of tackling it:

Double-faced policy created this mess, but the way out of it is hindered by the weakness of state institutions. Campaigners point to the dysfunctional and slow criminal justice system as the biggest barrier to tackling the militant threat. Meanwhile, the army refuses to acknowledge that it has a serious infiltration problem of extremist sympathisers, particularly at the lower levels. This further complicates the notion of taking military action, which is already a somewhat meaningless suggestion given the multiplicity of the threat: would it be another incursion against the militants in the north, or should troops be deployed to secure law and order in Baluchistan and Karachi? How do you fight a war against an enemy hidden in corners of every city? A serious drive to counter extremism would include short-term measures to stem the violence, but also long-term policies such as education, job development, and community cohesion.

Recent writings

Boys collect water in a fishing village in Karachi. Photo: my own
Boys collect water in a fishing village in Karachi. Photo: my own

The picture on the left is one I took during a visit to a small village on the outskirts of Karachi, for a piece about water sanitation. Below is a link to that piece (written for Dawn), and to some of the other things I’ve been writing recently.


Bilawal is key to PPP regaining mass appeal in Pakistan (27th December)

Following the PPP co-chairman’s speech on the anniversary of his mother’s death, I wrote a piece for the Independent about the importance of dynastic politics.

Postcard from Karachi (13th December)

This short piece describes a trip to Lyari, one of Karachi’s most dangerous areas.

Express Tribune

Revisiting Malala (6th January)

Malala Yousafzai was released from hospital last week, but has anything really changed for women activists since she was shot? This piece asks why we wait for women to become victims of serious violence before taking action.

Celebrating Christmas in Pakistan (31st December)

The week after Christmas, I looked at the continued persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Polio attacks – Pakistan’s future under threat (23rd December)

In the aftermath of the shocking murder of five healthworkers in Pakistan in December, I wrote about the dangerous politicisation of medical aid.


“Everybody needs water, it’s not political” (28th December)

This long feature looks at efforts to provide clean drinking water in Sindh, Pakistan, and the problems faced, including lack of education and poor electricity supplies.


On 4th January I was on Monocle 24, talking about Malala Yousafzai’s release from hospital, and what has changed (or not) in the interim. You can listen to it here.

I was also on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 on the 3rd January, talking about blacking up. (A bit of a break from the Pakistan theme!)