Pakistan Quetta bombing
Residents light candles to honour victims of the blast in Quetta during a candlelight vigil in Peshawar, Pakistan Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

On Monday in Quetta, Balochistan, a group of lawyers gathered at the Quetta Civil Hospital to protest the murder of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association (BBA), Bilal Anwar Kasi. Kasi's body, barely cold, had been taken to the hospital after he had been gunned down by an unidentified motorcyclist earlier that day.

However, one of the men was not an outraged lawyer, but a colleague of Kasi's assassin, who had a bomb strapped beneath his lawyer's uniform. He detonated, and the blast ripped through the entrance to the emergency wing, killing at least 74 and injuring over 100 people, to the staccato of gunfire.

Following the massacre, both Islamic State and Jamaat ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group from the Pakistani Taliban with Isis sympathies, fell over each other to claim responsibility for the attack, just days after the United States designated Jamaat ul-Ahrar as a terrorist organisation.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing, stating: "No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces, police and the people of Balochistan".

On the surface, this would put the Government of Pakistan at odds with JuA and the other extremists, but Sharif's crocodile tears are a thin veneer indeed. Whilst he bemoans the breach of the peace, the attack has been a boon. The BBA has been an active opponent of the government's policies against those campaigning to undo Pakistan's 1948 annexation of the nascent Baloch state less than a year after Britain granted it independence.

In 2012, the BBA brought a case to Pakistan's Supreme Court to protest the government's enforced disappearances of Baloch campaigners. The court ordered security forces to end the policy and to produce the missing people. In 2015 the Supreme Court again demanded that joint effort be made to trace missing people and identify the scores of dead bodies being recovered in Balochistan. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja explained: "We are creating difficulties for ourselves by not addressing such an important issue [enforced disappearances]; the federal government should take the lead in missing persons' case."

The Baloch people feel invisible on the world stage.

In January the chairman of the Voice of Baloch Missing People campaign Nasrullah Baloch stated that the enforced disappearances, also referred to as a 'kill and dump' policy had accelerated in 2015, with approximately 463 disappearances and the discovery of 157 bodies. This follows the discovery of three mass graves in 2014 in Khuzdar, which the Government confirmed contained the remains of 17 people, but which Baloch campaigners say hold more than 100 mutilated bodies.

The Pakistani Government has a complicated relationship with extremist organisations. Between June 2014 and June 2016, tens of thousands of soldiers under Operation Zarb e Azb forced many of the extremist groups out of the North-Western Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the number of terror attacks in the area has dropped to its lowest point since 2008.

In focus: Balochistan activists urge Pakistan to 'treat us as human beings and give us independence' IBTimes UK

However, questions remain over state support for terror groups and their lack of ability or will to tackle them. Since Operation Zarb e Azb, many groups, including Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or the Pakistani Taliban) and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban have established themselves in Balochistan. In March, Sharif's own adviser Sartaj Aziz openly admitted that the Taliban enjoyed sanctuary in Pakistan. In addition to this, government officials often deny that the Taliban and its affiliated Islamic State allies are making progress in Balochistan and instead often make the claim that India's RAW intelligence agency is involved instead.

What this boils down to is a very precarious position for the Baloch people, having lost a great number of talented people who were successfully using peaceful means to fight government heavy-handedness. Many of them feel frustrated with and alienated by the Islamabad government, which is not only denying the terror problem and failing to protect them from militant depredations, but actively pursuing what Human Rights Watch described as 'a policy of ethnic cleansing which is unacceptable and criminal'.

They are suffering economic exclusion and forced resettlement as the new China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project denies local Baloch people the jobs that the investment is providing, or even basic access to clean water, whilst their community turns into a Chinese outpost, where they are forced out of their own homes without consultation or apology. Most disheartening of all, the Baloch people feel invisible on the world stage, which is very apparent in the coverage of the Quetta bombing, which makes little or no mention of the wider context for the violence.

Whilst some are resorting to violence, with groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) staging attacks on Punjabi settlers, Chinese engineers, and government officials, there are others working to peacefully achieve Baloch independence.

The FBM recently held the first pro-Baloch protest in Europe, marching on foot from Dusseldorf to Berlin in an attempt to highlight their plight.

The Free Balochistan Movement (FBM) has launched its own Charter for the Liberation of Balochistan, struggling to bring values taken for granted in the West to the stricken region, including equality between men and women, separation of church and state, human rights, and a lasting commitment to peace. The FBM recently held the first pro-Baloch protest in Europe, marching on foot from Dusseldorf to Berlin in an attempt to highlight their plight.

Identification of the victims is still ongoing, but the most recent count lists the following lawyers as among the dead from the Quetta hospital attack: Sangat Jamaldni, Basheer Zheri, Qazi Basheer, Qazi Jameel, Rafiqe Langov, Naseer Langov, Ayub Raisani, Mhamood Lehri, Hafeez Mengal, Munir Mengal, Nooruddin Rakshani, Farooq Badini, Sabir Baloch, Chakar Rind, and Mohammad Ali Satakzai.


Simon Schofield is a Senior Fellow at the Human Security Centre, with research interests in human rights and terrorism, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia.