The philosophy of revenge is a strange one. People who are so filled with hate, anger, or feeling of righteousness that they feel they must strike out against someone – anyone – sometimes forget to discriminate between their friends and foes. In their quest to find some great act of violence that they hope will satisfy them, they target not only innocent people, but also buildings, symbols, and the very fabric of a country’s history to achieve their blind, unthinking objectives.
Terrorist groups targeting buildings is not a new phenomenon – violent groups of all stripes have long appreciated the symbolic impact of blowing up or otherwise destroying large, impressive structures, as incidents like the September 11th attack on the Twin Towers, the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing, the tearing down of the historic Babri mosque in India, and numerous other attacks have shown. To attack individual people is a horrifying act, and losses of human life are terrible; but to destroy a significant or meaningful building sends a very clear message to those who hold it dear, and wipes out a piece of history.
In the early hours of Saturday 15th June, another building was added to this list of historic buildings destroyed by terrorist actions – Quaid-e-Azam’s historic residency, in Ziarat, Balochistan, was wrecked by an incendiary device. This was the 19th century colonial-era building in which the father of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, spent the last days of his life. The building was constructed in 1892 by the British, and was later officially declared ‘Quaid-e-Azam’s Residency’ by the government of Pakistan. The place has been the centre of attraction for tourists from all around the world, who used to come and see the residence of the founder of Pakistan, and to pay him tribute for his untiring struggle for the protection and promotion of the rights of the Indian Muslims. The people of Pakistan have long had a deep respect for everything associated with their founder, and so the Quaid-e-Azam’s residence was highly respected and was considered as a national asset.
Responsibility for this iconoclastic attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army. The BLA, a proscribed terrorist group of Balochi separatists, burnt the entire building to the ground, and tearing down the Pakistani flag, replacing it with their own organisation’s flag. Citing government discrimination, human rights abuses (including hundreds of ‘disappearances’ of prominent Baloch activists and journalists), and hostility to the central government’s resource extraction policies, Baloch nationalists have long been involved in an on-going (fairly low-level) struggle against the Pakistani government.
Since the BLA’s founding in 2003, however, they have emerged as a serious growing threat to law and order in Balochistan. Despite claims not to target civilians – following an attack which killed eleven in Quetta in 2004, a BLA spokesman ‘expressed his deep grief over the civilian casualties caused by the blast’ – the group’s attacks have often involved high civilian death tolls, either directly, or as by killing bystanders. Indeed, in the attack on Quaid’ residency, a policeman guarding the house was killed in the initial blast – yet another incidental death resulting from the BLA’s campaign of terroristic violence. On top of this, they have also specifically targeted Pakistani security forces in the region, diverting vital resources from the fight against the remnants of Al-Qaeda in the area – a conflict that is only likely to escalate if rumours of separatist insurgents receiving arms and materiel from outside sources to continue their campaigns of violence in Balochistan.
A struggle to free oneself from oppression, and to assert one’s own human rights is the fundamental right of any community, and it is important not to let the recent terrorist attacks by the BLA change our minds on this either way. Nonetheless, targeting innocent civilians, carrying out attacks on dearly held national symbols for millions of Pakistanis, and destroying national treasures can never be productive for any movement struggling to secure their rights. The recent brutal attack on the residency of Quaid-e-Azam has not only had a huge psychological impact on many, many Pakistanis, but it has also undermined the peace efforts that started after the formation of the new provisional government in Balochistan.
After years of conflict, the democratic process has finally brought together a government that includes a range of nationalist parties including the National Party, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and the Balochistan National Party (Mengal). Despite this opportunity for dialogue and cooperation between the various elected representatives of Balochistan, the attackers seem to have no interest in or patience for securing the peace and stability of the region in the long term, but seem only to want to take a short cut and assert power now – an act that can only perpetuate the violent extremism in Balochistan.
Indeed, the philosophy of revenge is strange – All it seems to do is to perpetuate conflicts, bring down more scrutiny, and push peaceful dialogue and solidarity further away. Worse, it does not even let us discriminate between our friends and enemies. The so-called Baloch nationalists, who claim to be fighting for the rights of Baloch people, destroyed the historic residence of a person who, for the first time in the history of Indian subcontinent, had strongly advocated for reforms benefitting Balochistan on the same level as other provinces of India in his famous Fourteen Points in 1929.