President Joe Biden's pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Feb. 7, Biden and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei each traded "You Go First" statements. Biden was asked on Face the Nation, "Will the US lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?" He replied, "No." He was then asked, "They have to stop enriching uranium first?" Biden nodded. On that same day, Khamenei told military commanders and staff: "If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the US should remove all sanctions in action. After they have done this, we will check if the sanctions have truly been removed. Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments." (EA Worldview)
Members of Pakistan's Hazara people have launched a sit-in and public hunger strike after a massacre targeted the Shi'ite minority at a coal-field in a remote area of Balochistan province on Jan. 3. Hundreds have been blocking a major thoroughfare through the provincial capital, Quetta. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid was sent in to meet with a delegation of the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), the organization leading the sit-in, but his offer of compensation to victims' families was rebuffed as insufficient. In the attack, armed men rounded up miners from worker housing at the Machh coal-field in mountainous Bolan district. Those determined to be Hazara, 11 in all, were marched into the hills and summarily shot. Many had their throats slit or were otherwise mutilated. The local franchise of the "Islamic State" claimed responsibility for the massacre. Families of the victims are refusing to bury their loved ones, but have brought the bodies to the site of the sit-in, demanding the Balochistan government either arrest the killers or resign. (IANS, ANI, Dawn, Al Jazeera)
Pakistani human rights activist Karima Baloch, 37, was found dead in Toronto, Canada, on Dec. 21. Baloch went missing the previous day. The Toronto Police stated that "officers have determined this to be a non-criminal death and no foul play is suspected." But Baloch, from Pakistan's restive Balochistan region, fled her country in 2015 because of threats on her life. As a campaigner with the Baloch Students' Organization, she had harshly criticized the Pakistani military and state over ongoing rights abuses in the region. She continued to campaign for the rights of people in Balochistan while in exile, and the threats against her did not stop after she left Pakistan. Baloch's close friend, Lateef Johar Baloch, told reporters that she had recently received anonymous threats.
Gunmen killed at least 14 passengers after forcing them off several passenger vehicles on the coastal highway through Pakistan's restive Balochistan province April 18. Some 20 militants apparently stopped vehicles, checked passangers' identification papers, and shot selected ones to death on the roadside. There was initially speculation that those marked for death were ethnic Punjabis, targeted by the region's Baloch separatists. A statement later issued by a previously unknown militant group said those targeted were determined to be members of the military or security forces. The attack was claimed by the Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar, or Baloch People's Liberation Coalition, which is believed to have emerged from factional rivalry between the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF). Pakistan has filed a diplomatic complaint with Iran, accusing it of giving the Baloch militants harbor on its territory across the border. (Khaama Press, AP, RFE/RL, Pakistan Tribune)
In Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, at least 16 people were killed and over two dozen injured in a blast that targeted members of the Shi'ite Hazara community April 12. Eight of those killed in the blast at a crowded vegetable market were Hazara. "Members of the Hazara community go to the market every day to shop, and we provide them with a security escort," Quetta police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema told Al Jazeera. This was the latest in a relentless wave of terror against the Hazara people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. On March 7, three were killed and some 20 injured when a mortar attack struck a gathering in Kabul commemorating the 24th anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, leader of the Hazaras' Hizb-e-Wahdat Party and a key figure in the Mujahedeen resistance movement of the 1980s. Assassinated in 1995 by the Taliban, he was recently awarded the title of "Martyr of National Unity." The Kabul ceremony was attended by high officials and billed as a step toward national reconciliation. ISIS took credit for the attack, but the ongoing terror campaign leaves many Afghan Hazaras concerned about the current peace talks with the Taliban. (Dawn, Pakistan, TOLO, Afghanistan, The National, UAE)
A suicide bomber killed at least 130 people at a campaign rally in southwestern Pakistan July 13— the deadliest attack in the country since 2014. A local candidate was among the dead in Mastung town, Balochistan province. The local franchise of the Islamic State took credit for the attack. That same day, a bomb attack on a rally in the northern town of Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed four. Three days earlier, a suicide attack on a rally in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed 20. The attacks come ahead of this month's general elections. Among those killed in Mastung was Balochistan provincial assembly candidate Siraj Raisani, of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). (BBC News, Dawn, EWN)
ISIS claimed responsibility for simultaneous attacks on Iran's Majlis (parliament) and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 7, through a statement from the official Islamic State news agency Amaq. At least 12 are reported dead at the Majlis, and several wounded at the mausoleum. Reports indicate four gunmen, disguised as women, entered the visitors' hall of the Majlis building and opened fire, while a suicide-bomber pre-positioned inside the building blew himself up. Two other suicide-bombers meanwhile detonated at the Khomeini shrine. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards accused Saudi Arabia and the US of being behind the attacks. "This terrorist action, coming one week after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of one of the region's reactionary governments...shows they are involved in this savage action," it said in a statement.
A bill is advancing in Pakistan's Senate that would amend the coonstitution to give Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi the status of "national languages" along with Urdu. The bill this week cleared the Senate's Standing Committee on Law and Justice. Under Article 251 of the 1973 constitution, Urdu is recognized as the only "national language," with text calling for it to become the "official" language within 15 years. The text states that English can be used provisionally for official purposes until the transition to Urdu is complete. Other tongues may be promoted as "provincial languages," but this is a clearly subsidiary position. Urdu is actually a minority language itself, as Punjabi has the most speakers of any language in Pakistan. Urdu, long used as a lingua franca by various peoples, was chosen above Punjabi as the "national language" so as not to unduly favor Punjab province, the country's most populous. But English is still used for most administrative functions, and the transition to an "offically" Urdu state was never completed. The proposed amendment would make the other languages equal to Urdu, and "establish a fund for the development and promotion of national languages." It would also allow the provinces to promote other local languages, forseeing their eventual adoption as "national languages."