Quetta hospital bomb blast, killing more than 90 people, is the latest grim reminder to the ceaseless violence in Pakistan's strife-torn volatile province of Balochistan.
The deafening blast that ripped through scores of mourners in a Quetta hospital on Monday (August 8) has killed at least 93 people, mainly lawyers, in this year's bloodiest terror attack in Pakistan.
The massive explosion occurred when nearly 100 lawyers and some journalists reached the Civil Hospital with the body of Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association, who was killed earlier.
Lawyers have been targeted several times in recent months in Balochistan. One lawyer, Jahanzeb Alvi, was shot dead on August 3. Bilal Kasi, who himself was shot dead on August 8, had condemned Alvi's murder and announced a two-day boycott of courts. The principal of University of Balochistan's law college, Barrister Amanullah Achakzai, was also shot dead by unknown assailants in June.
Balochistan has experienced targeted killings and disappearance of Balochis by security forces for more than a decade. Pakistan's largest province by area, Balochistan is home to a low-level insurgency. Further complicating this chaotic scenario is a horrific campaign of murders against minority Shiite Muslims by Islamic fundamentalist Sunnis, particularly in and around the provincial capital city of Quetta, as well as a flurry of attacks on ethnic Hazaras.
Ironically, a Pakistani Taliban faction and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have both claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide attack.
"The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar takes responsibility for this attack, and pledges to continue carrying out such attacks. We will release a video report on this soon," the group's spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in an email, according to Al Jazeera, which also quoted ISIL's Amaq website as saying: "A martyr from the Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant] detonated his explosive belt at a gathering of justice ministry employees and Pakistani policemen in the city of Quetta."
However, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri blamed the Indian intelligence agency RAW, saying it was responsible for incidents of terror in Quetta.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has called for a United Nations (UN) probe into the planned killings of lawyers, through suicide attacks and targeted killings, in Balochistan, "where the state has been conducting operations for the past 14 years and where there are thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and extra-judicial killings."
In a statement, the AHRC said it is not possible that the government of Pakistan can have an impartial and transparent inquiry into the incidents as it is itself a party in the violations of human rights. "There have been more than two inquiry commissions that were formed in order to probe the enforced disappearances. The commissions completed their work in 2014 but the reports have still not been made public and it appears that the government does not have any intention to release them."
Tellingly, in January 2016, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) said that approximately 463 people were forcefully disappeared while 157 mutilated bodies were found from Balochistan in 2015. Nasrullah Baloch, Chairman of VBMP, told a Press Conference at Quetta Press Club, "The VBMPS report is comprised on documents received from missing persons' families, Human Rights Organization and political parties." Voice for Baloch Missing Persons is a human-rights organization representing the families of abducted Baloch persons all over Balochistan.
21,000 people have gone missing in Balochistan
According to Baloch activist Mama Qadeer, around 21,000 people have gone missing in Balochistan, adding that they had received 6,000 mutilated bodies to date. Qadeer was speaking at a press conference at Karachi Press Club on April 17, 2016. In January 2014, Mama Qadeer led a long march from Quetta to Islamabad to highlight the issue of missing persons and other atrocities by the army-led security forces against the Baloch people.
On July 26, 2016, a human-rights activist and the editor of a newspaper Abdul Wahid Baloch was taken away allegedly by the Pakistan security forces and his whereabouts are still unknown. The Baloch National Movement (BNM) organized a protest in Toronto, Canada, on July 31, 2016.
Baloch activists accuse the military of bombing entire villages in its attempt to hunt down alleged Baloch militant leaders. According to a BBC report of October 2015, one such military operation was conducted in Awaran district on 18 July 2015, when much of Pakistan was on Eid holiday at the end of Ramadan. The target for the aerial bombardment was Dr Allah Nazar, the chief of the Balochistan Liberation Front group. The military believes he was killed in the attack. "The operation was unannounced and indiscriminate," points out Bibi Gul, a Baloch human-rights activist. "Women and children were killed and thousands left the area. The army cordoned off the entire area. For nearly a month, people weren't allowed to go there to pick up the dead bodies."
On Sept 12, 2013, the Dawn, a leading English newspaper, reported that over the past three years almost 600 mutilated bodies -- more victims of the war between the state of Pakistan and the separatists -- have been found in Balochistan, citing documents from the home and tribal affairs department of the province.