Trampled Rights in Balochistan

Issue 8 | شمارہ ۸

Every single government in the course of the past decade has inflicted fresh wounds on Pakistan’s largest province, Balochistan.

Enforced disappearances of political workers began in earnest under General Pervez Musharraf’s government, generating the impetus for new separatist organizations. While the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) tried to alleviate the province’s grievances through the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan act, it was was introduced under the shadow of mutilated, dumped bodies of people who had gone missing. The current government has overseen an expansion and intensification of campaigns in Balochistan in the form of search operations. According to announcements made by the Frontier Corps (F.C.), 164 individuals have been killed in the course of these operations.

They have targeted areas known as headquarters and hiding places of Balochistan’s ongoing separatist, insurgent leadership—in Awaran, Turbat, Sui, Dera Bugti, Qalat and Khuzdar. In the past, says journalist Bashir Baloch, people would be abducted and dumped, their mutilated bodies discovered by family and friends. This practice had barely ended when the state turned towards search operations, to the concern of all those involved. The consequences of this new turn of events have been people forced to abandon their homes in places like Mardan and Awaran.

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The leader of one of the Balochistan Student Organizations, Zar Gul Baloch, says that the majority of people in Dera Bugti, Sui, Kohlu, Kahan, Chamalang, and its surrounding areas have already emigrated. The same trend seems to be repeated across the province, in the areas of Shahpak, Shahrak, Hoshap, Heonak, Dander, Awaran and Mashkey, as people are rapidly abandoning their homes because of the presence and operations of F.C. forces.

After last year’s earthquake in Awaran, she continues, the army and F.C. built dozens of camps in an attempt to convert these areas into military cantonments. Terrestrial and aerial bombing campaigns were carried out almost daily on the area’s people.

Pictures of military operations and burnt houses in Tump, Turbat, Bela and Mashkey have become widespread on social media. Alongside this development, Baloch organizations claim that children and innocent people have also been killed during these operations.

Map of Balochistan

Map of Balochistan

BSO-Azad leader Karima Baloch says the sarmachars (the Baloch name for fighters, which literally means those who are willing to sacrifice their heads) have left their houses for the mountains, as forces target ordinary people.

According to the F.C., three officials and a subedaar (a non-commissioned officer) have been injured in the ten months of the campaign. Meanwhile, the Inspector General of the F.C. informed the standing committee of the senate in January 2014 that 360 officials have been killed in the course between January 2007 and the time of the report.

Balochistan’s Minister of the Interior, Sarfaraz Bughti, denies that there is an operation going on in parts of the province, but emphasizes that we cannot dispossess any law enforcement institution of the right of retaliation. Forces respond, he says, to attacks on passing levies and military caravans.

The special commission of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has visited Quetta twice during the current government, but has not been able to receive permission to travel further. The leader of the HRCP, Asad Butt, says that the independent media has access to threats of military operations worldwide so that the reality of the situation can be established. Here the government issues a press release, or those under the government’s influence release statements, preventing facts and the real situation from being ascertained.

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Last year, on February 19th, the FC claimed to have killed five separatists in the Molazai village of Awaran district. Among the dead was Mohammad Nawaz, a laborer in a factory in Hub who was visiting the village to get married. We visited the village two weeks after the operation, where, in addition to several burnt houses and the remains of dead goats, we found shells and belts of spent bullets.

In a mud house, we met 17-year old Gulshan, who was now widowed even before she left for her husband’s house. Her groom, Nawaz, and her brothers and cousins were killed in this campaign. She told us that they were asleep at night when they were woken up by officials who subjected them to violence. The men panicked upon seeing the officers.

The next the morning, local people showed them the place of the rain stream where they had found the bodies of the young men. All five men were illiterate, and used to subsist on livestock and rain-fed agriculture.

In a village of over 50 houses, political affiliations could not be seen anywhere. No wall-chalking, flags, or any pictures of separatist leaders, could be seen in any of the houses. An inclination towards religion, however, was certainly obvious: Perhaps that is why it is called the village of maulvis.

The FC claimed that the five individuals killed belonged to the Baloch Liberation Front. However, no militant organization claimed them as their own. The FC announcement said that militants had attacked an FC post to which this operation was a response.

There is an FC camp in Jhao. However, we saw no FC checkpost anywhere on the unpaved and uneven paths between Jhao and Molla Zai village.

During the campaign in Mollazai, 48 people were taken into custody. Among them was Mollah Isa, who was subsequently released. He tells us that blindfolded and bound, he was detained in the FC camp, where he was surrounded by commotion. Afterwards, 8 elderly individuals were released.

About 15 kilometers from Mollazai, a search operation was conducted in the village of Do Ghoro, where we saw about half a dozen walls blackened as if they had been set on fire. A young man showed us his house, which was in a similar condition. The roof was unstable, and rubble was littered across the floor. The walls of the room were blackened, and outside we saw several metal cases with broken locks.

He told us that it was fajr (early morning prayer) when he was woken by his family to the sounds of approaching vehicles. He fled to the safety of the mountains, foiling apprehension.

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So far this year, Baloch militants have attacked FC caravans in the district of Awaran and have damaged gas pipelines in Sui and Dera Bugti. Similarly, trains have been targeted in Dera Bugti, Dera Murad Jamali, and in the Sindhi town of Jacobabad. During this time, radar systems have been attacked in Pisni.

Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik claims that the situation has improved. Scattered incidents occur in Quetta, Mastung, Khuzdar and Nasirabad, where a pipeline may be blown up or a train attacked, but conditions in these areas has improved in the aggregate. Militant actions are confined to Turbat, Kech and Panchgo.

Wahab Baloch, the leader of the Baloch Unity Council that is active in Karachi, has said that this government is possibly tasked with countering or crushing the Baloch movement, which is why it is rapidly conducting campaigns. As a result, the process is continuing with increased regularity in Mashkey, Panjgur, Gwadar, Dera Bugti and Khuzdar.

Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) says that over a thousand ordinary citizens and political workers have been forcefully abducted during the current government. The vice chairman of the organization, Mama Qadeer Baloch, says that things have improved from the times of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party under Dr. Malik’s ostensibly nationalist government. If on the one hand, there has been an increase in military operations, on the other, people are now abducted merely in the dozens. The media does not have access to underdeveloped areas while they also do not receive accurate facts and figures.

The government asserts that the military is not part of any campaign in Balochistan, but facts belie this. This year, the IG FC at the time, Major General Aijaz Shahid, briefed the Senate Standing Committee, saying that he had only one helicopter. He said that is why it takes him two to three days to travel from one part of the province to the other.

Contrary to this claim of the IG FC, the FC announcements have indicated that it has used helicopters in its so-called search operations in Bela, Qalat, Panjgur, Turbat, Sui, Kunzyari and Khuzdar. According to the FC, helicopters have also been used to supply and move forces, and to transport camps.

The FC has provided three reasons for these operations: damages inflicted on gas pipelines; attacks on the houses of those participating in the celebrations of Pakistan Day (23rd March or Pakistan Day, and 14th August or Pakistan’s Independence Day); and the targeting of Tableeghi Jamaat and religious leaders. Baloch organizations say that these militant sectarian groups are dividing secular Baloch into those who are zikris and those who are part of other religious groups.

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After the earthquake in Awaran, local and international organizations were not allowed to participate in the relief effort. Instead, the space was filled by Jammat-ud-Dawa, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s al-Himmat Trust, and other organizations with a jihadi bent.

Asad Butt, an activist at the HRCP, says that organizations along the lines of Al Badr and Al Shams are operating in Balochistan. These organizations, he says, are targeting common people. This complaint was repeatedly raised during the HRCP’s mission—the organization said that no one is stopping the attacks.

The discovery of a mass grave in the Totak region of Khuzdar in January of 2014 put Balochistan on the radar of human rights organizations around the world. The government claims that seventeen bodies were discovered in the mass grave, whereas Human Rights Asia asserts that this number is closer to 150. Similarly, Wahab Baloch, the leader of the Baloch Unity Council, claims that 169 bodies were found in just one grave, which was also the stance of the deputy commissioner at the time.

Subsequently, succumbing to pressure, the deputy commissioner retracted his claim. However, Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik replies that there has only been one grave discovered so far. Among the bodies discovered in the grave only those of Nazir and his cousin Qadir Bux Qalandarani have been identified; the rest have yet to be identified.

Nazir and Qadir Bux were residents of Pir Andar village of Awaran. Nazir went missing a few days after the earthquake when he was travelling from his village to Awaran. Deprived of education, 23 year old Nazir was a shepherd in Abu Dhabi, the proof of which is registered on his passport. A few months before his enforced disappearance, he had returned to his country and opened a small retail shop. Neither his shop nor anyone in his house had any political affiliations.

Zibad, Nazir Qalandarani’s elder brother, is a medical technician and treats people in his area, and is popular as a doctor. He told us that upon hearing Nazir’s name on a Balochi news channel, a cousin called him on a mobile phone to inform him, after which Zibad travelled overnight to Khuzdar Hospital.

He told us that despite the discovery of the corpses and their transfer to the hospital, they were blindfolded and cuffed. He saw 12 bodies from which he identified Nazir’s. Nazir’s face bore signs of violence that made recognition hard; Zibad was able to identify him because he remembered the color of the clothes Nazir had been wearing.

The Qalandarani tribe lives in the area of Tootak, where the mass grave was discovered. Zibad says that while they are certainly related to the Qalandarani tribe, they have never had any associations with Totak.

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The Balochistan government has announced DNA testing of the relatives of the disappeared and killed. However, no action has been taken on this so far, which has further increased the doubts among the relatives.

Saher Baloch, associated with Dawn, was the only journalist successful in reaching Totak. Her report quotes an official saying that several more such mass graves are yet to be discovered.

After the discovery of these graves, an organization named Mosallah Difah-e-Balochistan that was particularly active in Khuzdar was greatly popular. Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik was eventually forced to announce that some non-state actors are creating trouble for the government.

After complicated travel, the FC Search Operation reached Khuzdar. Campaigns were also carried out in Vadh, the village of the Mengals and the senior politician and sardar or tribal head, Attaullah Mengal. The FC claimed that it has apprehended Lashkar-e-Balochistan militants there. Javed Mengal, the son of Attaullah Mengal, is the leader of Lashkar-e-Balochistan.

The events in Balochistan are increasingly falling prey to self-censorship within the media. The press club in Khuzdar was shut after the killing of journalists and in Quetta journalist Arshad Mustooi and two friends were killed. In this situation, Baloch organizations sought the support of the Karachi Press Club, but the attack on Hamid Mir’s life was seen as an unofficial warning against many organizations and journalists, not least those in Balochistan.

Journalist Ramzan Chandio, who is associated with Punjab’s popular English daily, encountered obstacles created by several people when he covered the Baloch Missing Person’s march—a march that included a caravan of at least 15 friends and family members who traversed long-winding roads between Quetta and Islamabad for 100 days. He says that he received messages to not cover the Sindhi Freedom march organized by the Sindhi Qaumi Mahaz (Sindhi Nationalist Front).

The media’s policy of protecting and distancing itself has allowed state agencies an opportunity to act in a space where no one questions their actions. Unlike the past government, all political parties in the current government have also remained silent. A disassociation with Balochistan is also apparent in the Provincial Assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate. The result is a Balochistan that has been abandoned.

After the Taliban’s attack on an Army Public school in Peshawar, the security agencies have ostensibly changed their policies. But now, military courts have been established to punish the accused. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has said that no political workers will be tried in these courts, but with a legacy of banning political organizations–several Baloch organizations including BSO-Azad are banned–there is much that indicates that 2015 will be a difficult year for the Baloch.

Riaz Sohail is a reporter for BBC.

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