Sunday, June 19, 2011

Balochistan Is Dying Out

“The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognizable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.” This is not a description of a scene from some horror movie. This gruesome parade of corpses has been surfacing in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, since last July. Declan Walsh writes in “Guardian” (March 2011) , “Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accounted for more than 100 bodies – lawyers, students, taxi drivers, farm workers. Most have been tortured…If you have not heard of this epic killing spree, though, don' t worry: neither have most Pakistanis. Newspaper reports from Balochistan are buried quietly on the inside pages, cloaked in euphemisms or, quite often, not published at all.” He further says, “This is Pakistan's dirty little war. While foreign attention is focused on the Taliban, a deadly secondary conflict is bubbling in Balochistan, a sprawling, mineral-rich province along the western borders with Afghanistan and Iran. On one side is a scrappy coalition of guerrillas fighting for independence from Pakistan; on the other is a powerful army that seeks to quash their insurgency with maximum prejudice. The revolt, which has been rumbling for more than six years, is spiced by foreign interests and intrigues – US spy bases, Chinese business, vast underground reserves of copper, oil and gold.” Almost six months back, in November 2010 , the president of the Balochistan National Party ( BNP), Sardar Akhtar Mengal, is reported to have called on the head of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium,and apprised him about the alleged military operation in Balochistan and also about “issues like missing persons, systematic elimination of Baloch political leaders and activists and violation of human rights at the hand of government functionaries” . According to the BNP’s information secretary, Mengal produced a memorandum which he is reported to have already sent to the Secretary-General of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. In the letter, Mengal accused security forces and secret agencies of carrying out targeted killings of Baloch political activists. He said that corpses of executed missing persons are regularly being found, adding that the issue of missing persons is still awaiting proper attention. He told the EU chief that Baloch political opponent were being brutally tortured in illegal torture cells and later their corpses were thrown in desolate places across Balochistan. ..such incidents had become a matter of routine. Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission claims it has collected details of detention and torture centers in Pakistan, where missing persons are held for long periods of time for their alleged involvement in terrorist and sabotage activities. The information about the places of illegal detention was collected from the persons who were detained in these centers for several years after arrest. Their whereabouts were never made known to their family members. Military intelligence (MI), Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA), Pakistan Rangers, and the Frontier Constabulary (FC) are the main agencies who are keeping persons incommunicado and who torture them to confess their involvement in anti-state activities. In Balochistan province there are dozens of military detention centers, where people after their arrest, are detained and tortured to force confession statements about their alleged activities. AHRC statement, released in June 2008 , says, “It is interesting to note that the army officials are interrogating persons from Balochistan to force a confession admitting their involvement with the Balochistan Liberation Army ( BLA) and those arrested from Sindh about their involvement with the Sindh Liberation Army (SLA).  The military rulers are certain that both these organizations are working to disassociate themselves fro Pakistan.” Since the inception of Pakistan, the baloch people have been facing the wrath of the state of Pakistan. It is the fifth or sixth military intervention in Balochistan chasing the young and old, and women and children, into rugged mountains and deserts of the province for long periods of sufferings. After the assassination of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, particularly the Baloch youth is fighting for their rights. These are not only the tribesmen, but educated classes, teachers, students and other parts of emerging Baloch middle class are also taking part in the struggle against atrocities also, and hence being tortured and killed. The Baloch people are also the victim of violence being perpetrated by religious and sectarian militant groups. The pro- Taliban elements are active in the province whereas sectarian groups have been targeting members of the Shia community, particularly the Persian-speaking Hazaras. Such sectarian attacks are on the rise occurring mainly in the provincial capital, Quetta. The pro-Taliban Islamist groups are attacking those who act contrary to their interpretation of Islam. Teachers and students are being killed allegedly by the security agencies or by the Islamist groups or by the both. In early June this year, a complete shutter-down strike was observed in most parts of Balochistan to protest against the killing of prominent Baloch intellectual Professor Ghulam Husain Saba Dashtiari, called “Baloch Noam Chomsky” in www.thebalochhal. com editorial. The strike call was given by Baloch National Front and was observed in Khuzdar, Kech, Pasni, Gwadar, Nushki, Panjgur, Hoshab, Tump, Mand and adjoining areas, suspending all trade and business activities. All major markets, banks and even chemists in these areas remained closed for the day. The University of Balochistan was also shut to mourn the killing. Prof Ghulam Hussain, commonly known as Saba Dashtiari, was gunned down in broad daylight in Quetta. Dashtiari was known for his affinity with Baloch nationalist groups and his anti-establishment views. The Ansarul Islam, a little-known militant organization, claimed responsibility for the murder. Its spokesperson, who identified himself as Saifullah, said that the group would target anyone it deemed anti-jihad. Dashtiari became an active member of the Baloch nationalist movement in 2007 because of the dramatic increase in numbers of ‘ missing’ persons and army operation. He attended gatherings of the Baloch Republican Party, the Baloch Students Organisation and Baloch National Front. He was often a keynote speaker at demonstrations and seminars arranged by these groups. He blamed the military and the intelligence agencies for torturing and killing Baloch activists and even refused a presidential award from former president Pervez Musharraf in protest against the violation of human rights in Balochistan. Teachers, professors, and school administrators have found their lives increasingly under threat in Balochistan. Between January 2008 and October 2010 , suspected militant groups or agencies targeted and killed at least 22 teachers and other education personnel in the province. The Human Rights Watch laments that the most affected ethnic group currently is the Baloch because it is they who are losing teachers. It is their children whose education is affected, and it is their future that is at stake. The net result of the dirty wars in Balochistan is that despite being rich in gas, oil and other minerals, the province stands out with the worst social indicators. According to the World Bank, it scores lowest in 10 key indicators for education, literacy, health, water and sanitation for 2006-07. Poverty in Balochistan has risen and “become statistically indistinguishable from that in NWFP, the province with traditionally the highest measured poverty.” The very unfortunate situation in Balochistan, however, seem to have raised little concern in other parts of the country. The ethnic media appears more concerned about the ‘ghairat business’ or events occurred in Karachi or Islamabad. Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch concludes in an interview that the Pakistani media does not report on the brutal realities of Balochistan in any meaningful manner…Its people suffer from persistent, systematic and widespread human rights abuse both by state authorities and at the hands of non-state actors.