The most distressing aspect of the situation in Balochistan is the sharp increase in the number of human rights (HR) violations. While both sides have been guilty of it, it is the army that has been guilty of violating human rights systematically as an instrument of policy to crush the insurgency. This is borne out by reports of human rights organisations, think tanks as well as journalists who have had access to the region.
There are four impediments in discussing the HR violations. First, as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted, “The human rights abuses in the province receive only limited attention as certain areas remain virtually inaccessible to the national media and civil society, while many parts of the rest of the province are poorly connected to major cities elsewhere in Pakistan. Human rights violations are, therefore, poorly documented and patchily reported.” The media has been denied access even to the internally displaced people in the Bugti area where hundreds are believed to have died due to inadequate medical facilities and poor sanitation.
Second is the lack of serious international attention. As noted by Declan Walsh, the Baloch insurgency that has gone on intermittently for decades is often called Pakistan’s Dirty War, because of the rising numbers of people who have disappeared or have been killed on both sides. But it has received little attention internationally, in part because most eyes are turned toward the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas. The government was able to take “... advantage of the more permissive attitude towards human rights violations by the international coalition fighting the ‘war on terror’ to subject its political opponents, including Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, to enforced disappearance.”
Third, as Walsh notes, the forces of law and order are curiously indifferent to the plight of the dead men. Not a single perpetrator has been arrested or prosecuted; in fact, police investigators openly admit they are not even looking for anyone. As he puts it: “The stunning lack of interest in Pakistan’s greatest murder mystery in decades becomes more understandable, however, when it emerges that the prime suspect is not some shady gang of sadistic serial killers, but the country’s powerful military and its unaccountable intelligence men.”
Fourth, the statistics relating to human rights violations vary given the enormous difficulties in documenting them. Despite this, the common link in these violations is the crude attempt at suppressing the growing independence movement in Balochistan.
In spite of these constraints and Pakistan’s efforts to keep its brutality in Balochistan under wraps, it has failed to do so due to the determination of the human rights organisations and of the Baloch to bring to light what the army is doing to the people.
The most harrowing of all the human rights violations in Balochistan are enforced disappearances. It has become an explosive issue given that more people have gone missing in the province than in any other part of Pakistan.
The HRCP has ample evidence to support the allegations of the families of victims that the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are intelligence agencies and security forces. Senior officials and politicians in authority have also conceded this. A HRCP mission learnt that in several incidents even public figures in power were unable to secure relief or assurances that such incidents will stop.
These public figures cited a number of incidents of disappearances in which, on the basis of credible evidence, they approached the intelligence agencies and the security forces only to be met with a bland denial. The mission also received information about arbitrary arrests and reports of endemic torture at unauthorised cells whose existence was confirmed by public figures.
The consequences of such atrocities were well articulated by the veteran Baloch leader, Attaullah Mengal, when he told Nawaz Sharif in December 2011: “Baloch youth don’t want such a Pakistan in which they receive mutilated bodies of their compatriots. It is for them to decide [about their future], because they are being systematically eliminated and forced to seek refuge in the mountains.”
An ominous note followed: “But if atrocities continue, the Baloch will never accept a united Pakistan.” Sharif termed Attaullah Mengal’s concerns legitimate, conceding that atrocities were being committed in Balochistan. He said his party would also talk to Baloch youth. About the assassination of Akbar Bugti, Nawaz Sharif said the “killers must be called to account”.
The HRCP started noticing this issue in 2004 when the number of missing persons from Balochistan rose sharply. By 2006, Balochistan accounted for an overwhelming majority of persons reported missing in a year in Pakistan. In the cases of enforced disappearance brought before it, the mission found that there were credible allegations and material on record to substantiate the involvement of state security forces, particularly the Frontier Corps.
While first information reports (FIRs) had been registered with the local police in many cases of enforced disappearance, there had been no efforts by the police to investigate them. Quite likely since the involvement of the state security agencies, particularly the FC, was well known, the police did not take any action. According to the HRCP, “This indicated that there was either an unstated policy not to interfere with actions of the FC or the civil law enforcement authorities themselves feared the military and paramilitary forces.”
In one particular case a young man named Abid Saleem was picked up from Chitkar Bazaar in Panjgur on 23 January 2011, together with five other men who had no connection with him. Everyone present in that part of the bazaar saw uniformed FC personnel together with plain-clothes men take the boys into custody. An FIR was registered on 26 January 2011 with Panjgur Police Station and FC personnel were listed for the disappearance.
Instead of making any efforts to recover the disappeared persons, the police did not even ask any questions of the FC personnel. At least one of the persons picked up along with Abid Saleem was found alive. He had been severely tortured, shot and thrown by the roadside along with the dead body of another person who had disappeared with him on 23 January.
His tormentors had apparently thought that he too had died after being shot in the throat. There had been no investigation in this case by the police. No medical records were collected even though the survivor did receive medical treatment.
The HRCP Report 2009 made the important point that while in the rest of the country most of the missing persons were picked up due to involvement in terrorism, in Balochistan many belonged to areas where no terrorist activity was reported. The inescapable conclusion, according to it, was that a large number of Balochistan’s missing persons were targeted for their legitimate political activities/opinions. The perception had also gained ground that only ethnic Baloch were being targeted in incidents of enforced disappearance and none of the disappeared was a “settler”.
The situation had become so bad and attracted such international opprobrium that Pakistan was compelled to allow a UN mission in September 2012. The mission spent ten days in Balochistan meeting with government officials and private citizens to investigate the fate of disappeared persons in Balochistan.
Some of the witnesses who met with the delegation told its members that they had been “threatened or intimidated”. However, neither the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) nor the Frontier Corps that are blamed for most of the disappearances met the delegation. The UN mission did succeed in drawing international attention to the issue of enforced disappearances. The United States and the United Kingdom also expressed concerns over the human rights situation in Balochistan during the nineteenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Enforced disappearance is defined in Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which the UN General Assembly adopted in December 2006, as: “...the arrest, detention, abduction, or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support, or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Part II of the Constitution of Pakistan dealing with Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy states: “(1) No person shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest, nor shall he be denied the right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice. (2) Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before a magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest to the court of the nearest magistrate, and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate.”
There are provisions for preventive detention but here too: “No such law shall authorise the detention of a person for a period exceeding three months,” unless approved by the appropriate Review Board. All these constitutional guarantees have been systematically and repeatedly abused by the state.
For example, Munir Mengal, director of a proposed Baloch television channel, was illegally detained in April 2006. He was released in September 2007 on orders of the Balochistan High Court after he was exonerated of all charges. However, according to his family, he was again detained by the intelligence agencies at an unknown location.
Despite undeniable evidence of “disappearances”, successive governments have consistently denied subjecting anyone to enforced disappearance or knowing anything of their fate or whereabouts. In September and December 2006, after Amnesty International released reports documenting dozens of cases of enforced disappearances, President Musharraf responded by stating: “I don’t even want to reply to that; it is nonsense, I don’t believe it, I don’t trust it.” He added that 700 people had been detained but that all were accounted for.
In March 2007 President Musharraf asserted that the allegation that hundreds of persons had disappeared in the custody of intelligence agencies had “absolutely no basis” but that these individuals had been recruited or lured by “jihadi groups” to fight for their “misplaced causes”: “I am deadly sure that the missing persons are in the control of militant organisations,” he said.
The security forces when confronted by the Supreme Court and the provincial high courts about enforced disappearances have resorted to a variety of falsehoods to avoid being exposed. Not surprisingly, the refusal of the state to meaningfully and truthfully respond to Supreme Court directions has stalled the tracing of persons subjected to enforced disappearance in Pakistan. More wide-ranging damage is being done by giving the intelligence agencies immunity to commit such grave human rights violations and collaborating in their cover-up. The state has also sent a dangerous signal that it condones the impunity of committing, condoning or concealing such human rights violations.
In July 2011 the Human Rights Watch published a report named “We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years – Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan”. It starts with a summary that gives the account of the person who witnessed the disappearance of Abdul Nasir in June 2010: “Even if the president or chief justice tells us to release you, we won’t. We can torture you, or kill you, or keep you for years at our will. It is only the army chief and the [intelligence] chief that we obey.”
During consultations with the families of the disappeared people in Quetta, the HRCP found that families of missing persons living in remote areas, and in not so remote areas such as Kalat, did not have the means to register their complaints; most did not know how to access redressal channels and families were unaware of the cases in courts. As a result, Balochistan today has the dubious distinction of being the world capital of enforced disappearances where more than 2,000 journalists, singers, teachers and lawyers have been forcibly abducted, tortured, killed and dumped since 2009 – in just five years as many as in Chile during the reign of Augusto Pinochet. In 2014 alone, as many as 455 people, who were forcibly abducted, were tortured and killed by the Pakistani security forces and intelligence services, and their bodies dumped, according to Nasrullah Baloch, chairman of the VBMP.
Excerpted with permission from Pakistan: The Balochistan Conundrum, Tilak Devasher, HarperCollins India.