Pakistan continues to kill Baloch in fake encounters

When armed gunmen of Baloch Liberation Army [BLA] abducted Lt Col Laiq Baig Mirza of Pakistan army and his cousin Umer Javed on the night of July 12/13, Pakistan army launched a swift rescue operation using its elite Special Services Group [SSG] commandos and helicopters.

In its statement issued on 14 July, Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] claimed that after receiving information of the abduction, Army Quick Reaction Forces were immediately despatched to chase fleeing terrorists who traced them moving to their hideouts in general area Mangi Dam.”

To successfully track down a small armed group of just six to eight fighters in complete darkness and in extremely difficult terrain so quickly, is indeed a stellar achievement, which borders on the impossible. Though the abducted officer couldn’t be saved and nor could his cousin be rescued, ISPR’s assertion that Pakistan army had gunned down two BLA fighters who were directly involved in his kidnapping, would certainly help in calming public anger on the army’s inability to ensure security in Balochistan.

In a subsequent statement, ISPR claimed that “On the night of July 14/15, a terrorist hideout was identified and cleared by security forces near Khost in the Khalifat Mountains”. The statement mentioned that five BLA fighters had been killed in the Khost operation. This again was yet another major success for the Pakistan army and ISPR confidently stated that “The sanitisation operation, however, will continue in the area to apprehend the remaining perpetrators and recover Omer Javed”.

However, no sooner had ISPR issued its statement claiming that two BLA fighters had been killed by Pakistan army the night after Lt Col Mirza was abducted, BLA issued a strong rebuttal. Terming ISPR’s claims as “merely propaganda tactics to hide its catastrophic failures in Balochistan,” BLA spokesperson Jayaand Baloch maintained that “After executing the special operation in Ziarat, freedom fighters of BLA’s Special Tactical Operations Squad successfully reached their desired destinations,” adding, “In the whole operation not even a single fighter of BLA was injured or killed”.

Even before Lt Col Mirza was finally laid to rest, rumours were already doing the rounds that those killed by Pakistan army in the so called “rescue operations” weren’t BLA fighters, and there was more than one reason that lent credence to this assertion. First and foremost, BLA fighters are no novices and as such would have taken extraordinary precautions to conceal their location. So, the very speed and precision with which the Pakistani army was able to locate the abductors of Lt Col Mirza in such difficult terrain that provides excellent cover and concealment, in itself raises serious doubts regarding this claim.

Lt Col Laiq Baig Mirza of Pakistan army (Photo: News Intervention)

Nevertheless, let’s still give the rescue teams the benefit of doubt and assume that they did track down the kidnappers who were moving with their quarry. This brings us to the second question- how could this highly proficient rescue team that had accurately identified the kidnappers in the dead of the night and even managed to kill two of the abductors, suddenly lose track of them as dawn broke? What were the helicopters being used by the army doing? Something is clearly amiss!

Thirdly, ISPR claim that “On sensing their possible encirclement, Terrorists shot Lt Col Laiq Baig Mirza Shaheed and attempted to flee,” is plausible as on being cornered, kidnappers often kill their victims. Hence, BLA may have killed Lt Col Mirza “on sensing their possible encirclement” [as ISPR claims]. However, if the fear of encirclement compelled BLA to kill Lt Col Mirza, why didn’t they kill his cousin as well?

Trying to elude a security dragnet with a hostage in tow is asking for trouble and that’s why ISPR’s claim that the BLA fighters were successful in breaking contact with SSG commandos and getting away along with the kidnapped civilian somehow doesn’t gel. Lastly, the claim that five BLA fighters were killed in the Khost area the next night too needs to be taken with a pinch of salt because BLA has outrightly rejected this claim.

One may ask as to why more credence is being given to the BLA statement rather than ISPR. The answer is simple. In its statement, BLA has announced that “Baloch Liberation Army takes utmost pride in its struggle and the martyrdom of our comrades during this struggle. BLA announces all martyrdoms of its members with great glory and honour. If any of our freedom fighters had lost their lives in this successful operation, we would have taken pride in making it public and paying rich tributes to them.” All said and done, BLA has lived up tothis claim.

So, while past experience validates BLA’s contention as far as accepting casualties is concerned, unfortunately the same can’t be said about ISPR. Didn’t the Pakistan army deny that its soldiers were involved in the 1999 Kargil intrusions, and even disowned its own dead by claiming that these were corpses of ‘mujahideens’ and not its soldiers? When an army can go to the extent of trying to cover its lies by abandoning its soldiers killed in action during the Kargil War, then how can one accept what ISPR says without double-checking?

To cut a long story short, the truth is out. Human Rights Council of Balochistan has tweeted that “5 bodies out of 9 have been identified & all 5 persons are registered enforced disappeared persons who had remained in the custody of forces for months & years.” [Sic]. By providing specific details of their enforced disappearances, unlike ISPR, it has left nothing to speeculation as is evident from the information shared below:

·        Victim 1- Shams Satakzai, who was forcibly disappeared by [Pakistani] forces five years ago and has remained in custody.

·        Victim 2- Salim Karim, a student and resident of Panjgur who was whisked away [by the Pakistani military] in April 2022 when he was on his way to Quetta.

·        Victim 3- Dr Mukhtar, a physiotherapist by profession who was forcibly disappeared on 11 June, 2022 from Quetta.

·        Victim 4- Engineer Zaheer Bangulzai who was forcibly disappeared [ by security forces/ intelligence agencies] from his office at Airport Road Quetta on 7 October 2021.

·        Victim 5-Shehzad Khuda Bakhsh, who was abducted by security forces on 4 June  2022 and had remained ‘disappeared’ since then.

While this revelation about these staged killings may shock others, it’s nothing new for the hapless people of Balochistan. In fact, the HR Council of Balochistan has aptly summed it up by saying, “Extrajudicial execution of Eds persons [victims of Enforced Disappearances] in staged encounters is not a new phenomenon. State has been practicing it since the adoption of EDs, kill and dump policy”!

So, while the Pakistan army may feel that it can keep up its pretence of being successful in keeping Balochistan under its control through staged killings, the fact is that through its ‘abduct, kill and dump’ policy, Rawalpindi is only pushing the persecuted Balochis into picking up the gun and while the world watches on impassively, people in Balochistan live under the omnipresent fear of being forcibly disappeared some day and after being killed in a ‘routine’ encounter conveniently be identified as terrorists!

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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