Terror in Baluchistan

Up to 50 worshippers are dead and twice as many wounded in a bomb blast at a shrine to the 19th century Sufi saint Pir Rakhel Shah at Gandhawa in Pakistan’s conflicted province of Baluchistan March 19. The bomb went off as pilgrims at the shirne had lined up for a meal and were being served food. Although the shrine is at a Shi’ite mosque, it is revered by Sunnis as well, complicating a potential sectarian motive. News reports were conflicted on whether the separatist Baluchistan National Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility for the blast, and whether a time-bomb or suicide attack was used, but the incident has radically escalated local tensions. Since the blast, eight more have been killed in clashes between armed Baluch militiamen of the Bugti tribe and security froces sent into the area after the attack. A paramilitary base in Dera Bugtai, the tribe’s stronghold, is said to be under siege by Bugti militiamen. The explosion left a two-foot-deep crater at the shrine, and thousands of pilgrims who had arrived to commemorate the death of the saint are fleeing the area, overwhelming local bus service. "Everyone comes here, even Hindus. There is no distinction here between a Shiite and a Sunni,” said the shrine’s caretaker, Syed Sadiq Shah. "God’s curse be on those who did this. They have killed innocent people.” (Indian Express, NDTV, al-Jazeera, Rediff.com, Guardian, March 20) See also our last blog posts on the Baluchistan crisis, the strategic resources at stake, this local rise of Islamism, and the threat to Pakistan’s stability.