Disgracing National Pride
The destruction of the Ziarat residency by rocket attacks was a traumatic affair that rocked the nation. Was it enough to shake the people out of their reverie?
The attack on the Ziarat residency has damaged Pakistan’s history.
In the wee hours of June 14-15, 2013, militants of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) launched a coordinated attack on the residency of Quaid-eAzam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Ziarat, Balochistan and destroyed that national heritage. The BLA took responsibility for the attack and vowed to destroy all such symbols in the province.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the first Governor General of Pakistan, lived his last days in the hill resort of Ziarat as he was suffering from tuberculosis. Since his death, the Ziarat residency was declared a national heritage and was renamed as Jinnah residency. That building was, in fact, built during the British days and served as a residency for British officers posted in Balochistan.
Rocket propelled grenades were fired at the residency, killing the lone policeman on duty. The attackers also removed the flag of Pakistan from the building and put up the BLA flag. The National Assembly, which was holding the budget session, strongly condemned the attack and the federal interior minis- ter paid a visit to Ziarat to get first hand information.
For some time now, Balochistan has been facing an insurgency by the BLA and other nationalist groups though this is not only the issue, Quetta is rocked by several suicide attacks, particularly against the Shiite Hazara community, killing hundreds of people. Strangely, the attack on the Jinnah’s residency took place in a Pashtun-dominated area which had been peaceful and almost free of crimes. If the BLA can target a national heritage in a non-Baloch area, it can also reach places where it has no physical presence like the Jinnah mausoleum in Karachi.
Ziarat is a hill resort in north western Balochistan. It is famous for its juniper forests and waterfalls. Thousands of tourists from different parts of Pakistan visit Ziarat every year and also visit the Jinnah residency. The attackers not only destroyed the residency but created fear and insecurity among the people of Ziarat - that they could be vulnerable to such attacks in the future too.
The federal government instructed the Chief Minister of Balochistan to take all appropriate measures to protect the Jinnah residency from future attacks and pledged to restore the residency to its original shape in three months. But the damage has been done. Not only the people of Pakistan are in utter shock over the attack but the outside world is also questioning the failure of official authorities in protecting its national heritage from a blatant attack. Only one policeman was posted at the residency and surely it was not possible for him to prevent such an attack which was carried out by half a dozen armed men and neither was it anticipated
by the authorities.
Why were proper security measures not taken to protect the residency from acts of subversion and why were state authorities so lethargic in fulfilling their responsibilities? These are the questions that are being asked in the aftermath of the attack. How can the state effectively guard its national and strategic assets?
Four factors impact the causes and implications of the attack. First, the attack took place barely a few days after the oath taking of the Chief Minister of Balochistan Mr. Abdul Malik Baloch who belongs to the nationalist National Party. When the Pakistan Muslim League (N) emerged as the single largest party as a result of the May 11 elections, it agreed to support Malik hoping that he may be able to control years of lawlessness and insurgency in Balochistan. But, the attack on the residency gave him the message that despite the presence of nationalist parties in the Balochistan government, they would not stop their anti-Pakistan activities.
The BLA demands an independent Balochistan arguing that the Khan of Kalat’s reported accession to Pakistan in 1947 was illegal and the new government of Pakistan forcibly took control of Balochistan. Ever since the assassination of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006, Balochistan, particularly its Baloch areas, are in turmoil. No province of Pakistan has experienced repeated military action since the 1960s. In the May 2013 general elections, the voter turnout was very low in the Baloch areas of Balochistan which raised questions about the credibility of the polls.
Second, the issue of missing per- sons, torture and abductions in Balochistan is a serious matter which is used by the BLA and various separatist groups to justify armed struggle, particularly against the security forces and the non-Baloch settlers, namely the Punjabis. In view of numerous attacks on Punjabi settlers in Balochistan, including Quetta, there has been an exodus of settlers from Balochistan. Baloch nationalist and separatist groups consider the Punjabi dominated military and bureaucracy as being responsible for the loot and plunder of the province’s natural and mineral resources. They also give the example of what they consider the “colonization” of Gwadar port and the brutal exploitation of gas and other natural, mineral resources of Balochistan by Islamabad.
Third, the tragedy in Ziarat has exposed the writ and credibility of both provincial and federal governments in protecting that national heritage. Disgracing the Jinnah residency and hoisting the flag of BLA means that the state is dysfunctional in Balochistan and has tried to cover up that episode by suspending a few officials and making some arrests. The sad reality is that the flag of Pakistan cannot be hoisted even on Pakistan Day and Independence Day in many parts of Balochistan, including Balochistan University. Like past acts of terrorism ad violence in Balochistan, whether conducted by the religious ex- tremists or ethnic nationalists, the Ziarat incident will also be forgotten.
Finally, the federal interior minister while talking to reporters during his visit to Quetta made it clear that the violent acts of separatist groups would be answered in the same terms. This is contradictory because the PML(N) in the past took a position to talk to such groups, such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with which it wants negotiations. In reality, the Ziarat tragedy will provide further encouragement to separatists and other nationalist groups in Balochistan to augment their activities.
There are some in the Balochistan Assembly who indirectly refused to condemn the attack on the residency in Ziarat. While taking to The Express Tribune, Akram Shah, General Secretary of Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) which is a coalition partner in the government of Balochistan, described the Jinnah residency as a “wooden house at Ziarat which was a symbol of slavery as it was built for the colonial British officer Sir Robert Groves Sandeman who ruled Balochistan until his death in 1892. The house has always reminded the Baloch and Pashtuns of the long period when they were the slaves of British Empire in the Indian subcontinent. For us, it’s no more than the house of the then agent to the governor general of India.”
Reacting to the statement, members of Balochistan Assembly said, “Akram Shah has hurt the feelings of millions of patriotic people in Balochistan and of those who had an emotional attachment with the historic building, Ziarat residency. The PK-MAP leader should behave like a responsible politician and not forget that his party is a coalition partner in the Balochistan government.”
If the government fails to take a stern action against those who disgraced a national monument, it will prove its inability to rein in those groups who openly challenge the writ of the state and are able to get away with their violent acts.