By Tufail Ahmad
28th March 2014
As it is happening in Balochistan now, Pakistani army was engaged in killings and torture of Bengali people in East Pakistan when a courageous Goa-born Pakistani journalist Anthony Mascarenhas collected reports and published an article titled Genocide in The Sunday Times of London of June 13, 1971. His article exposed Pakistan army’s war crimes and drew international attention to the issue of what is now Bangladesh. In the case of Balochistan, roughly the size of Italy, a similar situation prevails now as the Pakistani army is abducting and killing Baloch political activists, lawyers and journalists whose mutilated bodies are found every week.
In recent years, thousands of Baloch people have gone missing, having been abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies which torture them, kill them and dump their bodies by roadsides. Respected human rights advocate Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur recently put the number of missing Balochs at 18,000 and of the tortured bodies found in Balochistan as well as in Karachi at 800. Mutilated bodies of Balochs are still being found, with recoveries made from Pirkoh area of the Dera Bugti district on March 18. Recently, the relatives of the missing persons led by the non-political group Voice for Baloch Missing Persons walked 2,000km from Quetta, arriving in Islamabad four months later on February 28, to raise awareness about the issue. Nasrullah Baloch, the group’s chairman, has warned: “The Baloch genocide is… underway.”
In January, several mass graves were found around Tutak village, from which over a hundred bodies were recovered before the Pakistan army stepped in. Rebel leader Brahmdagh Bugti, whose grandfather and Baloch elder Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was killed in a Pakistani military operation in 2006, said recently that 160 mass graves exist but the media is barred from reporting about them. Among the locals, there is no doubt that the only culprit is the Pakistan military and its paramilitary forces. In September 2012, then Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry went on to describe Pakistani intelligence agencies as “death squads” after they refused to comply with 60 of his orders from 68 court hearings.
In Balochistan, a poor but geographically the largest and resource-rich province, grievances accumulated over the past few decades due to the Pakistani government’s negligence of educational and economic development or denial of jobs to local people in government departments dominated by Punjabis. Consequently, Balochistan has witnessed several phases of insurgency. Pakistan has carried out military operations in 1948-52, 1958-60, 1962-69, 1973-77 and from 2004 onwards.
Currently, the Pakistani army is also killing camels and other livestock, as revealed in videos emerging on the Internet recently, to punish villagers for supporting the Baloch activists. According to Balochistan’s top security officer Major General Ejaz Shah, schools in Panjgur, Turbat and Makran regions have stopped playing the Pakistani national anthem.
In the past seven years, 30 Baloch journalists were killed in the province, the Balochistan Union of Journalists noted recently. While Pakistani media reports the Balochs’ demand for the freedom of their loved ones abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies, it maintains considered silence on the Pakistani military’s brutalities inside Balochistan. Recently, noted human rights campaigner I A Rehman accused the Pakistani media of developing “prejudice against the people of Balochistan” due to its “subservience” to the military establishment and wondered why Pakistani journalists who earn fame by interviewing jihadist commanders are not reaching out to Baloch dissident leaders. The Baloch journalists cannot write freely as they fear for their lives, while reporters from elsewhere in Pakistan cannot visit Balochistan except as part of military-supervised trips.
There are two categories of genocide underway in Balochistan: the killings of Baloch activists and journalists by the Pakistani intelligence agencies, and the systematic cleansing of ethnic Hazara Shias by Sunni jihadist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and its sister concern Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which enjoy the support of Pakistani intelligence, the Taliban and the Punjab government. The situation of Hazara Shias is particularly helpless, as their religious places are being attacked in targeted blasts and by suicide bombers; or they are simply pulled out of passenger buses and shot dead after their government-issued national identity card reveals their Shia surnames, more so as they return from pilgrimage to Iran. Local Hindus too have been forced to migrate out of the province and to India.
Muhammad Akbar Notezai, a Quetta-based journalist, thinks that the situation in Balochistan can be improved if Pakistan takes some urgent steps: release the missing persons, stop the kill-and-dump policy against Baloch nationalists, remove the sense of deprivation among people through educational and economic development, and grant autonomy by permitting the province to gain control over its natural resources. However, the situation in Balochistan may no longer be a case of economic deprivation. Syed Fazl-e-Haider, author of Economic Development of Balochistan, wrote recently: “Enforced disappearances are fuelling the fires of an insurgency and pushing more and more frustrated youth into the separatist camp.” He warned: “If the (provincial) government… does not initiate the dialogue process with the separatists, it will be tantamount to a failure of electoral politics in the province.”
As in Bangladesh, the Pakistani army’s role in Balochistan is central to the issue. Anthony Mascarenhas succeeded in exposing the war crimes in Bangladesh as he could move his family from Pakistan to England, but for any Pakistani journalist to write about the Pakistani army’s crimes in Balochistan it would require much more courage. Not long ago, investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was killed after he wrote about Al-Qaeda’s presence in the Pakistani military. The US, too, adds to Pakistan’s overall misery by supporting the Pakistani army, thereby enabling it to continue the killings in Balochistan and elsewhere. On February 12, the US state department dismissed the idea of an independent Balochistan, stating: “The US respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan.” In Bangladesh, the world did not know of the Pakistani army’s war crimes. In Balochistan, the Pakistan army’s crimes are known and continuing.
Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.