By Kadeem Baloch
Balochistan’s disputes with Pakistan date back seven decades, and vary from being denied a fair part of the province’s natural resources to a series of military operations. According to Baloch nationalists, the province was militarily taken in March 1948, against the desire of the population. Balochistan’s rising ethno-nationalism resulted in insurgencies in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The continuing dirty war in Balochistan erupted after the turn of the century under Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf, with the 2006 assassination of nationalist leader Akbar Bugti igniting the most heinous wave of Baloch resistance.
Amongst various issues of resource exploitation; marginalization of Baloch people; absence of freedom etc, the malice of enforced disappearances, covertly sponsored by Pakistani state and military has been of a serious concern. For the past 20 years, Pakistan, especially people of Balochistan have experienced enforced disappearances.
As the year started, the monthly report of Paank Human Rights Department of BNM stated that in January, Pakistani forces forcibly disappeared 41 people from Balochistan, including 18 students and a journalist. While 14 forced missing persons were released from the torture cells of the Pakistan army after severe physical and mental torture. The district profile of 41 people suggests that, majority of disappearances occurred in the districts of Kech-11; followed by Quetta-7 and Noshki-5.
According to Paank, in the months of December 2022 and January 2023, the cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances significantly increased in Balochistan. The report further states that the current trend of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, along with the inhuman and cruel use of torture, is a slap on international community and guardian of human rights all over the world. The international community must take action to hold Pakistan accountable and to ensure the protection of human rights for all. The UN and other international organizations must work to monitor and investigate these cases, and to provide support and assistance to the victims of torture, and their families.
Since 1999, when the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to form his authoritarian regime, the matter of enforced disappearances has risen to prominence. Hundreds of thousands of people from all spheres of life started to disappear in Balochistan. In March 2011, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIOED) was formed to work on the issue. According to figures released by COIOED in July 2022, a total of 8,696 cases of missing persons have been reported. While 6,513 of these cases have been solved, 2,219 are still pending.
There is no fixed pattern regarding the people picked up or those who disappear. Being born in Balochistan, is enough of a good reason to get abducted. The abducted person could be a farmer, journalist, student, political activist, NGO worker, coal miner, teacher; the profession is not a factor. Asserting voice against the state atrocity is the main reason behind enforced disappearances. Regrettably, the Pakistani military has also killed the Baloch not just in Pakistan but also in other countries, notably in Europe. Baloch journalists and activists first went missing and then found dead in mysterious circumstances in Sweden, Canada and Azerbaijan.
One such instance is that of Baloch Human Rights activist Karima Baloch, who died in Canada. Toronto police stated that her body was discovered on December 21, 2020 morning after she’d gone missing a day earlier.
Earlier, in the month of August, 2022, “Enforced disappearances in Pakistan have become a routine occurrence,” the Asian Human Rights Commission stated. Authorities have accepted this as standard law enforcement practice, the commission said in a statement released on the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The AHRC said both, the government and judiciary were cognizant of how widespread enforced disappearances had become. The practice, the Commission said, was perpetuated by the military and intelligence agencies. The practice has become rampant in Balochistan, the AHRC mentioned.
Moreover, the state also stifles the Baloch people who often protest in a peaceful manner. In a dogmatic regime, common people are often not allowed to express their difficulties, so is true in the case of Pakistan. Amnesty International’s briefing, titled, ‘Braving the Storm: Enforced Disappearances and the Right to Protest’, documents the state’s use of harassment, intimidation, and even violence, to silence peaceful protests by families of the disappeared. Many families turn to public demonstrations to pressure authorities to release their loved ones or for information about their whereabouts, having exhausted all means of redress through the justice system.
More tragically, Baloch people are labelled as ‘militants’, by Pakistani military and establishment. The state is cruel towards its own citizen and is branding them as militants are the ultimate betrayal by the country. In the month of July, 2022, allegations were made by the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), the National Party and other Baloch nationalist groups that at least five Baloch men, labelled as ‘militants’ were killed in the infamous Ziarat operation were reported as missing after they were picked up by security forces.
On the other hand, the Provincial Government has stated that the nine people killed in the security operation in Ziarat were all militants, a stance vehemently opposed by anti-enforced disappearances activists. Showcasing obstinance, adviser to the Chief Minister of Balochistan on Home Affairs, Mir Ziaullah Longau, stated that many people listed as missing persons are actually hiding in the mountains and carrying out attacks against the state.
Shamelessly, in a political eyewash, of which Pakistani establishment is an expert, the National Assembly on October 21, 2022 for the second time passed a bill seeking to declare enforced disappearances a heinous crime after removing a controversial section which provided for punishment to those filing false complaints. Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar agreed to withdraw the controversial Section 514 from the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022, after several lawmakers, mostly belonging to the parties in the ruling coalition, protested over it and refused to vote for the bill in the present form.
It has become a cat and mouse game in which the state is relentless in its violent and repressive measures to silence the brave and independent voice of Baloch people. And on the other hand, the Baloch people are also continuing their struggle for autonomy and independence in the past seven decades.
*The author chooses a pseudonym. Kadeem Baloch is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.
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