ISLAMABAD - The ongoing civil-military strife in trouble-stricken Balochistan,
the most resource-rich but neglected and underdeveloped of the four provinces
of Pakistan, has escalated to a worrying degree as a sputtering insurgency led
by Baloch nationalists is fast turning into an all-out internal war between the
Pakistan armed forces and the people of Balochistan.
Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with the central
government, mainly due to the touchy issues of provincial
autonomy, control of mineral resources and a consequent sense of deprivation.
A recently-released fact-finding report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that
"The Pakistani security services are brazenly disappearing, torturing and often
killing people because of suspected ties to Baloch nationalist movement".
Another fact-finding report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
observed, "In the cases of enforced disappearance of the Baloch men which were
brought before the commission, there were credible allegations of the
involvement of the state security forces."
Both the HRCP and HRW are well-respected and reliable human-rights
organizations and their reports have come as ethnic and sectarian killings in
Balochistan are taking place with an alarming regularity, mainly targeting
Shi'ites and Punjabis. The latter are allegedly being killed by Baloch
insurgents who themselves are being hunted down by the security forces for
their so-called "anti-Pakistan activities".
Since June 2011, the bodies of over 170 Baloch men aged between 20 and 40 have
been recovered from various areas of Balochistan. They are believed to be
victims of the "kill and dump" operations being carried out by the Pakistani
security forces, hence prompting the Baloch rebels to target Punjabis and
Shi'ites in turn. The killings have helped perpetuate a climate of fear, anger
and uncertainty in the provincial capital Quetta, as well as the
Baloch-dominated areas of the province.
Both reports highlight the issue of the "disappeared" Baloch people, more
commonly known as "missing persons", who are allegedly abducted by security
agencies. The two reports highlight various dimensions of the violence that has
Balochistan in its grip, including that perpetrated by the state, insurgents
and extremist sectarian elements. On the other hand, the Pakistan army has
rejected human-rights organizations' fact-finding reports about Balochistan as
an attempt to destabilize and malign the Pakistani armed forces.
Released on July 28 in New York, the 132-page HRW report titled, "We Can
Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan
Security Forces in Balochistan", stated: "Several of those who disappeared were
among the dozens of people extra-judicially executed in recent months in the
resource-rich, violence-wracked province."
The report detailed 45 cases of enforced disappearances, the majority in 2009
and 2010. While hundreds of people have been forcibly vanished in Balochistan
since 2005, dozens of new enforced disappearances have occurred since Pakistan
returned to civilian rule in 2008 following general elections in February. The
HRW report is based on more than 100 interviews with the family members of
disappeared Balochis, former detainees, local human-rights activists, lawyers
and witnesses to government abductions.
For the past few years, the number of missing persons in Balochistan has
increased alarmingly. Tortured and bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch nationalists
are often found dumped randomly. The victims are usually shot in the temple
once. Known locally as "mutilated bodies", the signs of torture are often hard
to determine because many of the bodies have already begun to decompose when
According to HRW's report:
The inability of the Pakistani law
enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of
disappearances is exacerbated by the continuing failure of the Pakistani
authorities at the national and provincial level to exert political will to
address the issue of disappearances in Balochistan. The authorities have failed
so far to send a strong message to the security forces and intelligence
agencies and to implement a set of concrete measures that would put an end to
the practice of enforced disappearances.
This is exactly what
the Baloch nationalists have been saying for years. No one is willing to take
action against the security forces and the intelligence agencies for the abuses
being carried out in the name of "national interest".
In its report titled "Blinkered Slide into Chaos", and released on July 1, the
HRCP expressed deep concern over the rapidly deteriorating law and order
situation in Balochistan, terming it extremely precarious and calling for a
political solution to the problem.
According to the report, the majority of missing persons used to eventually
return home, but lately only mutilated bodies of victims of enforced
disappearance turn up on roadsides and desolate places. The report mentioned
140 such cases from July 2010 to May 2011. A large number of bodies were of
university students. The report also provided a detailed account of 143 missing
persons in Balochistan.
"The figures are much higher than the reported cases and in many cases;
families prefer to stay silent for security reasons. Even the lowest number is
large enough to raise alarm bells," said HRCP secretary general I A Rehman,
adding that all authority in the provinces seemed vested in security forces,
which enjoy complete impunity.
The HRCP report said that the agents of state, as well as Baloch insurgents and
extremists operating in the province, shared a common disregard for human
rights. "Insurgents have murdered settlers in targeted killings with impunity.
A few amongst the Baloch nationalists tacitly condone these killings while
others don't condemn them openly," the report said, adding that in a number of
districts, large areas had been cleansed of "settler" populations.
According to the HRCP report, the provincial government in Balochistan is
perceived to be powerless and irrelevant, whereas the civil administration,
which is elected by the people and meant to represent them, has ceded its
"The security forces do not consider themselves answerable or accountable to
the government or judiciary, nor feel compelled to cooperate with the civil
government," said the report, adding that targeted killings on the basis of
ethnicity and belief were rampant and those targeted included professionals
such as teachers, doctors and traders.
The report mentioned the complete record of 18 such people who were targeted
this year. Regarding lawlessness, the report said that it had proliferated at
an alarming rate and brought normal life and economic activity to a halt.
Perhaps the most important part of the report is the HRCP claim that there is
evidence about the missing persons with the relatives