On August 9, every lawyer in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital, was either at a funeral or shuttling around town to offer condolences. The suicide bombing at the Civil Hospital Quetta on August 8 left 73 dead and over 100 injured, most of them lawyers. So devastating was the impact of the attack by Tehrik-e-Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahraar that no member of Balochistan’s legal community was left unaffected. Earlier in the day, Balochistan Bar Association president Bilal Kasi had been gunned down. Kasi’s target killing brought the city’s entire legal fraternity to the civil hospital, setting the scene for an attack that has left the nation’s legal and judicial circles reeling, with many arguing that it will take decades to overcome the damage.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, viewed by the state primarily as a site for the extraction of natural resources, such as natural gas and minerals. Historic neglect and repression of the province’s local population has fuelled countless anti-state insurgencies. This lack of development has resulted in Balochistan remaining a frontier province, allowing its territory to be used as a safe haven by militant organisations. This mixture of local separatist dissidents and Taliban affiliated militant organisations has made Baloch intellectuals – lawyers, intellectuals writers, activists, and social workers – integral to struggles for due process and human rights in the province.
Amanullah Kanrani, former advocate general of Balochistan, was one of the survivors of the Quetta attack. Despite sustaining injuries, he left his hospital bed to join the mourners and begin rebuilding the community. “There are 300 lawyers in Balochistan,” Kanrani said, “and 150 of them were either killed or injured.” These are approximate numbers, but it is widely believed that at least half the lawyers in the province have been affected, including almost the entire cadre of senior practicing lawyers. Syed Ayaz Zahoor, a senior Baloch advocate, said, “It will take 40 years for Balochistan to overcome the damage that has been done”. He had left the site of the blast only minutes earlier. “There were 200 lawyers gathered at the hospital. I had just gone into the adjacent room when the bomb went off,” he said.
Baloch lawyers are the only means of communication between the people of their province and the Pakistani state, which faces allegations of silencing them and often held responsible for their mysterious disappearance. “With so many lawyers missing,” said Kanrani, “the courts cannot function. It will be to the detriment of the judiciary and the litigants of Balochistan.” People who have appealed to the courts will now find it impossible to attain justice. Zahoor summed it up. “You can now count on your fingers the number of advocates left,” he stated. “It will have a great effect on the public...it will have great consequences for our province.”
Quetta’s lawyers are active not only in defending the dispossessed and disappeared, they are among a small intellectual core in the province that has been consistently targeted by militants and the security agencies.
Little wonder then that both Kanrani and Zahoor are highly critical of the lack of security at the hospital, blaming the death toll on the negligence of the government and security agencies. “This is a strategy used by criminals: they target one person and then when a mob is gathered, they strike,” Kanrani argued. In three incidents that took place between December 2012 and June 2013, crowds were attacked following a target killing in Balochistan.
“What are the agencies doing – the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], the secret agencies?” Zahoor asked angrily. “They only make dramas and stories, but they do nothing for the general public.” Soon after the attacks, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri blamed Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing for the attack. The influence of India and other foreign actors was also discussed at a corps’ commanders conference held the day after the attack. Such statements are not being well received in the province where, for the Baloch, who is responsible is not as important as why the attack was not prevented by the state security apparatus.
There is a consensus amongst lawyers across the country that once Kasi was targeted, security should have been bolstered at the Civil Hospital in anticipation of a follow-up attack. “They [security forces] should have known anything can happen because the lawyer community is going to gather,” insisted Zahoor. There is a belief amongst the legal community that they are under attack in Pakistan. “That’s why the president [of the bar association] was made a target, in order to get us all together at one place.” Many feel, particularly after the events in Quetta, that the state is not taking the threat seriously. “They are throwing our lives into the waste paper basket,” exclaimed Zahoor.
While federal government and military officials have strongly condemned the attacks, this predictable blaming of foreign forces indicates that little will actually be done to improve the situation in Balochistan. “No serious steps are being taken by the government,” insisted Kanrani “so this will happen again.” His words proved prophetic: another blast, targeting an Anti-Terrorism Court judge, injured 14 people in Quetta on August 11.