There isn’t a single impartial rights organisation of repute [including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan] which hasn’t repeatedly brought out how the people of Balochistan are the hapless victims of institutionalised human rights abuse ranging from abduction to illegal confinement and enforced disappearances to extrajudicial killings by the Pakistan army and paramilitaries, levies and intelligence agencies under its command.
Regrettably, even though these organisations are continuously providing meticulously researched, and unbiased evidence of the continuing gruesome crimes against humanity in Balochistan, all that the international community does is to either issue a perfunctory statement of condemnation or express solidarity with the persecuted Balochis-neither of which helps in ameliorating their sufferings or curbing this despicable trend.
Just a few days ago, the International Forum for Rights and Security [IFFRAS], an independent and international think tank based in Toronto, Canada, issued a report titled “Forcible Disappearances of Baloch Students”, containing “detailed data of all reported forcible disappearances of Baloch students from January 2022 till end of May 2022”. As every incident of enforced disappearance mentioned in this report is backed by personal particulars of the victims, date and place from where they were disappeared, this report leaves no scope of speculation or denial.
The IFFRAS report has provided details of 48 Balochi students disappeared by Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies from January to May this year, which amounts to a whopping figure of nearly 10 abductions per month. This report mentions that local rights groups “particularly Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, [VBMP] believe the real number of disappearances is much higher than what is reported to [the] media. They maintain that a large number of families are threatened not to go public, or their loved ones will be harmed”- a fact that has been brought out by Amnesty International and many other rights organisations.
By noting that “The practice of enforced disappearances has become a norm for the people of Balochistan since the early 2000s”, and specifically stating that “The personnel of Pakistani secretive agencies accompanied by personnel of Pakistani Army or Frontier Corps have disappeared tens of thousands of Baloch people in last two decades”, the IFFRAS report has left nothing to imagination. Details of abductions in the IFFRAS report unambiguously exposes the absolutely arbitrary manner in which the Pakistan army has been abducting Balochis. A few examples:
· On 27 April, Dr Dildar Imdad, a cardiologist working in Karachi, was forcibly disappeared and released a few days later. If he was involved in anti-national activities, then why was he released without being charge-sheeted?
· On 28 April, Saeed, [son of Muhammad Omar] belonging to Dasht village of Kech district in Balochistan was disappeared from Malir in Karachi. Since he was studying in Russia and had come home on a brief vacation to meet his family, how could he be involved in anti-national activities?
· On 6 May , while travelling from Turbat to Quetta, Shahbaig [son of Wali Dad] was forcibly disappeared from a military post in Panjgur. However, when members of the public blocked the highways and surrounded the military camp, he was released. If the Pakistan army was confident that Sahabaig was involved in anti-national activities, then why was he released as arbitrarily as he had been abducted?
· On 18 May, Muslim [son of Allah Baksh] and Mir Ahmed were forcibly disappeared from Quetta. However, after massive public protests, both were released, once again making their abduction highly questionable.
A few other disturbing revelations contained in the IFFRAS report [quoted verbatim] are:
· There is not a single family in Balochistan, whose member or a relative has not been forcibly disappeared.
· In the last two decades, scores of Baloch students have been disappeared. Many of the forcibly disappeared students have been killed and dumped. Whereas, thousands are still believed to be languishing in Pakistani torture cells.
· VBMP has setup a token hunger strike camp that is believed to be the longest protest in the region. It has continued for more than 4,670 days.
· The Pakistani authorities believe that student groups are providing the cadres for the armed groups. Therefore, students are picked up on slight suspicions after every incident in an attempt to obtain or extract information from them.
·There are sheer levels of uncertainties in Balochistan, but what is for certain is that the enforced disappearances of Baloch youth particularly the students, has created great terror in the society.
By observing that “The enforced disappearances have seen a spike in the past few months throughout Balochistan and in various major cities of Pakistan, especially since BLA’s deadly attack targeting Chinese nationals at Karachi University [KU],” the IFFRAS report has exposed how in a bid to please its Chinese masters, Pakistan army has gone on an abduction overdrive. This assessment is buttressed by the fact that abduction figures of Balochis, which varied from 6 to 8 every month during the period January to April, suddenly surged to an unbelievable 19 during May!
Islamabad undoubtedly has the moral responsibility of bringing masterminds behind the KU suicide bombing to book. However, one can’t understand as to why the Pakistan army continues taking recourse to the unlawful abduction route and disappearing Balochi youth rather than using the prescribed judicial process of securing custody of suspects for questioning.
While no plausible reason behind Pakistan army’s aversion to the legal process comes to mind, an implied reference to Pakistan in the IFFRAS report does provide a credible explanation. It notes that “The practice of enforced disappearance is used by authoritative states as a strategy to spread terror within society’, and how “The feeling of insecurity and fear the enforced disappearances generates is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects communities and society as a whole”.
Most importantly, it summarises that “The agents of repressive states often perpetrate this crime, which, with complete impunity, “gets rid” of people that it considers a “nuisance”: no arrest warrant, no charge, no prosecutions.” IFFRAS observation regarding “complete immunity” gives one a sense of déjà vu since it has a striking similar mention in Human Rights Watch [HRW] report on ‘Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan’, dated July 28, 2011.
This report quotes the then 76 years old Baloch Republican Party secretary general Bashir Azeem who in April 2010, when under “unacknowledged detention” of Pakistani security forces, was told by a Pakistani official that “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.”
So, while the terrorised people of Balochistan continue to suffer untold indignities of the worst kind and the looming fear of being disappeared by the Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies, with the international community continuing to look the other way and maintaining a stoic silence on these ongoing violations of human rights is tantamount to endorsing Rawalpindi’s undeclared [but obvious view] that Balochi lives really don’t matter!