SECTARIAN ATTACKS AND RISING TENSION IN QUETTA, PAKISTAN
Nicholas A. Heras
Sectarian attacks and rising tension have risen in a natural resource-rich province in southwestern Pakistan over the last few months. Baluchistan’s capital of Quetta is the largest and most diverse city in the north-central region of the province bordering Afghanistan and has been a particularly restive site of insecurity. Quetta’s Shi’a Muslim, ethnic Hazara community was the target of a series of sectarian attacks in January and February.
The Salafist Sunni political and militant movement Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the attacks (The Nation [Lahore], February 21). Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has allegedly supported the LeJ and with the country’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has encouraged the LeJ to organize in Baluchistan in order to confront ethnic Baluchi separatist movements (Asia Times, October 5, 2011).
A suicide bombing occurred in a pool hall and two car bombs were detonated in the crowded, Hazara-majority Alamdar Road neighborhood of Quetta on January 10, killing 107 people and wounding 150 (Express Tribune [Karachi], February 20). Members of Quetta’s Hazara community refused to bury victims of the attack and demanded the imposition of direct Pakistani military rule (Express Tribune [Karachi], January 15). Some members of the Hazara community also asserted that the Baluchistan government under Chief Minister Aslam Raisani was biased against the Shi’a and supported the LeJ (Dawn [Karachi], January 15).
In response to the demand, the Pakistani government dismissed the provincial government of Chief Minister Aslam Raisani and imposed direct governor’s rule under Governor Zulfiqar Magsi. It also authorized the paramilitary Frontier Corps to assume full policing power in the province (Dawn [Karachi], January 13). In spite of these reactions, the January attack was followed by a February 16 tanker bombing in a busy vegetable market in the Hazara-majority Hussain Abad neighborhood of the city, killing 94 people and wounding 190 (Hazara.net, March 4). During a telephone statement to Pakistani media following the attacks, the LeJ declared that “the [Pakistani government] should be under no illusion that the governor rule will divert our attention from our real enemies—the Shi’a… Lashkar-e-Jhangvi will kill them regardless of governor rule or army deployment” (Daily Qudrat [Karachi], February 17).
Following the bombing, the families of the victims of the attacks in Quetta refused to bury their dead, and demonstrators demanding that the Pakistani security forces prosecute sectarian attackers blocked roads and organized mass protests in Quetta, Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi (Dawn [Karachi], February 19). In response to the protests, Pakistani security forces conducted a series of targeted operations against suspected LeJ fighters in and around Quetta. The operations killed four LeJ fighters, including Shah Wali, the organizer of the January attacks, and captured seven (Dawn [Karachi], February 20). As a result of the operations and assurances of security to the Hazaras of Quetta by the Pakistani government, the demonstrations were ended (Express Tribune [Karachi], February 19). Another raid by security forces in Khost, a southern suburb of Quetta, captured eight LeJ fighters and a significant cache of weapons (Shiitenews, March 9).
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik stated support for declaring Hazara-majority areas of Quetta as “red zones” protected by military patrols and checkpoints (PakTribune [Rawalpindi], February 20). Hazara fighters are also reported to be forming a militia known as the Syed-ul-Shohada Scouts, which is stated to be patrolling the streets and erecting checkpoints in Hazara-majority areas of the city (Agence France-Presse, February 28). Pakistan’s Supreme Court has found the military’s current security plan for Quetta to be insufficient to protect the Hazara community in the city and has ordered the military to create a comprehensive security plan to protect the Hazaras (The Nation [Lahore], February 27).
HAS BOKO HARAM LEADER ABUBAKAR SHEKAU RETURNED TO NIGERIA FROM MALI?
Abubakar Shekau announced in July 2010 that he was the new leader of Boko Haram and replaced Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf, who was killed by Nigerian security forces in July 2009. In his first statement in July 2010, Shekau, who was Yusuf’s deputy, showed solidarity with al-Qaeda by expressing greetings from the mujahideen in Nigeria “to the Islamic State of Iraq, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Abu Abullah al-Muhajir, the Amir of the Islamic State in Somalia, the Amir of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Amir of the mujahideen in Pakistan, in Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula and our religious clerics whom I did not mention.” He also warned the United States that “jihad has just begun (Agence France-Presse, December 28, 2010).” This tone from Shekau distinguished his leadership from Muhammad Yusuf, who mainly gave sermons about Salafist teachings and the Nigerian government, which he saw as corrupt; Yusuf did not overtly show support for al-Qaeda.
Shekau’s statements since July, 2010 have consistently shown that he identifies with al-Qaeda. Boko Haram’s attacks have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties, which is consistent with Shekau’s praise for al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi, who carried out attacks in Iraq that left hundreds of civilian casualties. Reports that Shekau had traveled to the city of Gao in northern Mali and met with AQIM leaders there did not emerge, however, until al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar al-Din took control of northern Mali in July 2012 (The Sun [Abuja], October 27, 2012). A video surfaced in November 2012 showing Shekau wearing camouflaged military fatigues and training on rocket-propelled grenade-launchers in a desert with heavily armed and veiled militants. Speaking Arabic in the video, Shekau praised the “brothers and shaykhs in the Islamic Maghreb” and “soldiers of the Islamic State of Mali” (Ana al-Muslim Network, November 29). The video heightened speculation that Shekau had joined with the other Nigerian and Nigérien Boko Haram militants that were reported in Gao as early as April 2012 because it would be unlikely that Shekau and the other Boko Haram fighters could train openly in Nigeria (Vanguard [Lagos], April 9, 2012).
Now it seems that Shekau may have returned to Nigeria or at least that he has changed his environment. In a video released on March 1, Shekau appears with six armed militants.  In contrast to the November 2012 video, he is in a forested area, and his message is delivered not in Arabic but in Hausa, a local Nigerian language. Furthermore, his message is directed towards President Goodluck Jonathan. This suggests that Shekau has returned his attention to Nigeria, that he may no longer be in the desert area of Mali and that Shekau must still be in relative safety since he appears with armed militants in the open.
It also notable, however, that in a subsequent video of Shekau released on March 18, he confirmed Boko Haram’s kidnapping of a French family in northern Cameroon and warned that Boko Haram would attack Cameroon if more Boko Haram members were arrested there.  While Shekau’s location remains unknown, it is clear that under Shekau’s command, connections are emerging that will enable Boko Haram and other militants to continue expanding in the Sahel.
1. “Shekau, Boko Haram Leader, Denies Ceasefire in Beheading Video,” Vanguard, March 6, 2013, Available at https://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/03/shekau-boko-haram-leader-denies-ceasefire-in-beheading-video/.
2. “Boko Haram Threatens JTF Spokesperson, Demands Prisoners Exchange for French Nationals,” Premium Times, March 18, 2013, Available at https://premiumtimesng.com/news/125659-boko-haram-threatens-jtf-spokesperson-demands-prisoners-exchange-for-french-nationals.html.