Enforced disappearances in Pak-occupied Balochistan by Pak Army continues unabated

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Saira Baloch has taken a stand to demand answers
Saira Baloch (left), Mahgul and Mahliqa (right) (Photo - News Intervention)

After skipping summons in the Baloch missing students’ case twice, Pakistan’s ex-caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar finally appeared in the Islamabad High Court [IHC] last Wednesday. The summons had been issued by Islamabad High Court [IHC] senior Puisne Judge Mohsin Akhtar Kayani hearing a petition filed by human rights lawyer Imaan Mazari regarding enforced disappearance of 59 Baloch students.

Remarking that the “Caretaker prime minister should not consider coming to court as an insult,” Justice Kayani noted that “Even after 21 hearings, the absence of positive results [on recovery of the missing students] is an insult to the Constitution of Pakistan.” He accordingly wrote in his order that “There is no way out except to summon the prime minister, ministers, and secretaries to inform the court why the matter is not being given due importance.” 

However, rather than accepting institutional failure and informing the court about the steps being taken to recover the missing Baloch students, Kakar instead tried to obfuscate the issue by going on a tangent. Brazenly absolving the government of any lapses, he went on to complain that “The series of accusations [of rampant enforced disappearances in Balochistan] leveled against the state every other day should stop.”

Kakar’s complete lack of concern about enforced disappearances in Balochistan became evident when he told a reporter while leaving the court he had “defended the allegations against the state in the name of enforced disappearances.” Though extremely shameful, this irresponsible utterance comes as no big surprise as it’s not the first time that the powers-that-be in Pakistan have exhibited such a callous attitude towards the brutalised people of Balochistan.

In April 2019, while replying to Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir’s query of enforced disappearances in Balochistan, the then Director General [DG] of Pakistan Army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had the gall to say that “You have a deep attachment with missing persons [but] so have we. We don’t wish that anyone should be missing. But when it’s war, you have to do a lot of [unpleasant] things- as they say, all is fair in love and war; war is very ruthless.” [Emphasis added].

Three months later, in a tweet DGISPR admitted that some missing people include “Those with the state [who] are under legal process.” The acknowledgement that those “under legal process” are being forcibly disappeared as a matter of routine is indeed very disturbing as it’s an unambiguous admission of the Pakistan Army’s complicity in orchestrating enforced disappearances through various agencies and covert ‘death squads’ that operate in Balochistan under its command.

The issue of enforced disappearances in Pakistan is so acute that the Human Rights Watch World Report 2019 on Pakistan which states, “During counter-terrorism operations, Pakistani security forces often are responsible for serious human rights violations including torture, enforced disappearances, detention without charge, and extrajudicial killings. . . Counterterrorism laws also continue to be misused as an instrument of political coercion. Authorities do not allow independent monitoring of trials in military courts and many defendants are denied the right to a fair trial.” [Emphasis added].

One would run out of space to list out all incidents of enforced disappearances in Balochistan as they run into thousands. Nevertheless, two such cases deserve mention as they indicate the dizzy heights of institutional impunity. The first incident is one that grabbed international attention on April 26, 2010, when Asian Human Rights Commission [AHRC] issued an urgent appeal [AHRC-UAC-053-2010] soliciting public support through appeals to concerned authorities on Pakistan’s High Court’s inability to recover 35 year old Baloch person named Jalil Reki Baloch who was abducted by persons in plain clothes on 13 February 2009.”

Two things make this AHRC appeal more disconcerting. One, it clearly states that Jalil Baloch is still missing fifteen months after his arrest by plain clothed intelligence agents, and despite admissions by officials that he is in custody.” [Emphasis added], and two, there’s a specific mention that Although the Supreme Court has made strong efforts to address the issue of disappearances in Pakistan it remains unable to hold military staff, such as those from the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency answerable for illegal arrests and detentions.” [Emphasis added].

The AHRC appeal campaign failed to locate or save Baloch. Two years and eight months after he was forcibly disappeared in broad daylight in the presence of numerous witnesses, Baloch’s dead body with gruesome torture marks was recovered near Turbat city in Kech district of Balochistan. He had been shot through the heart execution-style and ended up as yet another name in the long list of Pakistan Army’s infamous ‘kill and dump’ victims.

The second case is more recent and concerns the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of another Baloch named Balaach Mola Bakhsh, which confirms that Pakistan Army’s abduct, kill and dump policy continues unabated.

Bakhsh was abducted by Counter Terrorism Department [CTD] personnel from his house in Turbat on October 29 last year. However, a First Information Report against him was filed by CTD only after 22 days in which it was alleged that Baalach was apprehended on November 20 and five kg explosives were found in his possession. He was produced in court by CTD on November 21.

On November 23, CTD claimed that four terrorists of a “proscribed group” had been killed in an encounter in Turbat the previous night. Surprisingly, Baalach [who was then on remand in CTD custody] was listed as one amongst the terrorists killed. This barefaced extrajudicial killing led to massive public outcry and to cover their crime, CTD changed its original version and claimed that Baalach was killed in crossfire when he was leading a CTD team to a terrorist hideout.

This incident sparked the December 2023 March against Baloch Genocide and has brought back the issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan under international scrutiny. Unfortunately, just like in the past, no country or international rights organisation has given this disturbing trend the importance it rightly deserves. And so, while no one grudges Pakistan shedding copious tears on the killing of Palestinians in Gaza, the fact that neither Islamabad or Rawalpindi is losing sleep over continuing enforced disappearances in Balochistan exposes its perverse duplicity.

Tailpiece: While Kakar may pride himself for having “defended the allegations against the state in the name of enforced disappearances,” he’s explicitly implicated Rawalpindi on this issue. Just three months ago, the ex-caretaker prime minister had during a TV interview admitted that “[the] state has no hand in these [enforced] disappearances” but accepted that “most times, the security forces pick up the people who’re involved in activities which are against the law.” [Emphasis added].

Similarly, in an undated video shot before he became Prime Minister, Imran Khan can be heard telling an audience that “Our Army [is] bombing people in Balochistan; how can we bomb our own people? Is there any army [there that] you are bombing? It is our own people with their children, and it is important to understand [that we are just bombing our people. Just think about the immorality of bombing villages with the women and children.”

Is any further proof of Pakistan Army’s active involvement in enforced disappearances required? 

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