By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
At least 16 persons, including women and children, were killed and another 35 were injured in a suicide attack near the residence of tribal elder Shafiq Mengal, son of former acting Chief Minister and Federal Minister Naseer Mengal, on Arbab Karam Khan Road in Quetta, the Provincial capital of Balochistan, on December 30, 2011. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Prior to that, on December 29, 2011, unidentified assailants shot dead a Police surgeon, Baqir Shah, who had played a key role in exposing the extra-judicial killing of five foreigners, including three women, in Quetta. Shah, who reportedly had not been provided any security despite being attacked in the past, had conducted the autopsy of five foreigners, including Russians and Tajiks, who were shot dead by Pakistani Security Forces (SFs) in Quetta on May 17, 2011. The autopsy report had contradicted the Quetta Police Chief Daud Junejo’s claim that the foreigners had not died due to shooting by law enforcement personnel, but because of a blast which they triggered with the help of explosives and suicide vests. Shah’s report revealed that they died from “multiple bullet wounds”. Significantly, while media reports had then claimed that the victims were unarmed and carried no explosives, footage on several TV news channels had shown SF personnel firing a volley of bullets at the foreigners as they lay on the ground near a security check post.
Earlier, three bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch Nationalist Party – Mengal (BNP-M) activists were found in the Zero Point area of Khuzdar District on December 12, 2011. The victims, identified as Bashir Ahmed, Sanaullah Mardoi and Allah Bakhsh Mardoi, had been abducted earlier, on an unspecified date.
Balochistan has for long earned notoriety as the land of extra judicial killings, disappearances, SF high handedness, and repression, as well as a playground for terrorists operating beyond the frontiers of the Country. The Province witnessed 711 fatalities, including 542 civilians, 122 SF personnel and 47 militants in 2011, as against 347 fatalities, comprising of 274 civilians, 59 SF personnel and 14 militants in 2010, according to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM, all data till December 31, 2011. These numbers are likely to be underestimates, as access to media and independent observers are severely restricted in Balochistan). Overall fatalities in 2011 thus increased by 104.89 per cent over the preceding year. Incidents of killing rose by 116 per cent, from 150 in 2010 to 321 in 2011. Further, the number of major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) increased by 152.17 percent, with 58 such incidents recorded in 2011, as against 23 in 2010.
More worryingly, fatalities among civilians increased by almost 97.81 per cent, and at least 123 of 542 civilian killings appeared to be “extra judicial” in nature – that is, executed by state agencies. The victims of these extrajudicial executions were either political activists or people opposing the oppressive nature of governance in the Province.
Annual Fatalities in Balochistan, 2006-2011
Source: SATP, *Data till December 31, 2011
Unsurprisingly, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a non-governmental organisation, in a statement issued on December 9, 2011, observed,
Bodies of at least 225 ‘missing persons’ have been recovered from various parts of the Province since July 2010. The situation is particularly grave for non-Muslims and minority Muslim sects. As many as 80 members of the Shia community have been killed in the Province this year  alone, for no reason other than their religious belief. HRCP also has serious concern at targeted killing of teachers, intellectuals and non-Baloch ‘settlers’ in Balochistan. The murder of two HRCP activists and three journalists in the Province in 2011 signifies the dangers that those highlighting human rights violations face on a daily basis. It is a matter of grave alarm that 107 new cases of enforced disappearance have been reported in Balochistan in 2011, and the ‘missing persons’ are increasingly turning up dead. It is scandalous that not a single person has been held accountable for these disappearances and killings.
Earlier, on September 18, 2011, the Commission had expressed ‘serious concern’ over the increasing number of decomposed bodies of missing persons being recovered from different parts of Balochistan, noting,
Around 188 decomposed dead bodies have so far been dumped in desolate places in different parts of Balochistan since June 4, 2010... Most of the victims were political opponents, students and cream of the society.
A report of the fact-finding mission of the HRCP which visited the Province between May 4 and 7, 2011 had observed,
Enforced disappearances continue to be a matter of great concern.
It has been noted that dead bodies recovered have had signs of extreme torture.
All authority seems to vest with the Security Forces. The civil administration, elected by the people and meant to represent them, appears to have ceded its powers.
Perturbed by the worsening situation, Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, on March 2, 2011, remarked that the Government should take practical steps instead of issuing policy statements regarding abduction and targeted killings in Balochistan. Significantly, during the course of the proceedings, Balochistan’s Advocate General Salahuddin Mengal observed,
We are recovering dead bodies day in and day out as the FC [Frontier Constabulary] and Police are lifting people in broad daylight at will, but we are helpless. Who can check the FC? End the burning issue of missing persons first and then blame the Balochistan Government for not controlling law and order.
Regrettably, however, FC Inspector General Major General Ubaidullah Khattak on December 13, 2011, simply dismissed these allegations and claimed that 90 per cent of the missing Baloch persons were involved in criminal activities and had been killed by their own organisations.
Not surprisingly, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, senior leader of the BNP-M, on December 19, 2011, warned that Balochistan would not "remain with" Pakistan if extra-judicial killings of Baloch nationalists and excesses by SFs were not stopped immediately. "Balochistan will not remain with you", Mengal declared, adding that the violence and killings by SFs had taken "Balochistan to the point of no return" and steps had to be taken to engage the youth "who have been driven into the mountains by the Army". Similarly, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) parliamentarian, Lieutenant General (Retd.) Abdul Qadir Baloch, on February 25, 2011, had alleged that the security agencies were behind the abduction and killing of political workers and national activists in Balochistan.
Baloch insurgents and Pashtun Islamist and sectarian terrorists, meanwhile, retained capabilities to carry out acts of sabotage on a daily basis across the Province. Acts of violence were, crucially, not restricted to a few areas, but occurred in practically every one of the 26 Districts of the Province, including capital Quetta. According to FC data, a total of 1,328 violent incidents took place across the Province in 2011.
Terrorist violence in Balochistan has had a significant sectarian overlay. Balochistan witnessed 89 fatalities in 12 incidents of sectarian violence in 2011. 11 of these occurred in Quetta alone, with 63 persons killed. The remaining incident occurred in Mastung District. In the worst such attack in 2011, 26 Shia pilgrims were shot dead by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants in Taftan, a town that shares border with Iran, in the Ganjidori area of Mastung District, on September 20, 2011.
Separately, Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik, on July 13, 2011, disclosed that, over preceding three years, 134 Punjabi-speaking people had been killed in Balochistan.
As in previous years, Islamist terrorists left no stone unturned to attack and disrupt the principal NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, which pass through Balochistan. Partial data compiled by SATP recorded 59 attacks in Balochistan in 2011, on oil tankers and trucks ferrying NATO supplies, marginally down from 66 in 2010. However, the loss of lives in these attacks rose from 12 in 2010 to at least 19 in 2011.
Rising extremism and violence, attacks on NATO convoys, and the arrest of high profile al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists has repeatedly demonstrated the presence of the Quetta Shura and al Qaeda networks in North Balochistan. Since 2009, at least 22 al Qaeda and six Afghan Taliban militants have been arrested in the region. The Pakistan establishment, however, continues to brazenly deny this reality. Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Raisani on August 4, 2011, dismissed media reports about the existence of Quetta Shura or the presence of Mullah Omar or al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri in Balochistan. Similarly, Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik stated, on June 5, 2011, "The propaganda of the Taliban Quetta Shura is baseless, if anyone has concrete evidence about their claims, it must be shared with Government." And further, "Over 30 raids have been conducted on the presence of Taliban across Balochistan, but they were not found."
However, the arrest in Quetta of senior al Qaeda leader, Younis al-Mauritani, believed to have been responsible for planning attacks in the US, Europe and Australia, along with two other “senior al Qaeda operatives”, Abdul Ghaffar Al Shami aka Bachar Chama and Messara Al Shami aka Mujahid Amino in a joint raid by the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the FC, disclosed on September 5, 2011, proves the hypocrisy of the Pakistani claims.
The lackadaisical approach of the Pakistani establishment has evidently emboldened the extremists. While the number of SF personnel killed in 2010 stood at 59, it has increased considerably to 120 in 2011. At least 28 people were killed and over 60 injured in two suicide attacks targeting the residence of the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the FC, Brigadier Farrukh Shehzad, in Quetta on September 7, 2011. The attacks targeted and wounded the DIG, whose Force was involved in the arrest of Younis al-Mauritani and two other al Qaeda operatives in Quetta, in an operation announced on September 5, 2011.
The quantum jump in violence can be attributed to the rising desperation among the Baloch nationals. Despite Balochistan’s natural resource wealth (including the country’s largest deposits of coal and copper, as well as copious quantities of other minerals), Balochistan is Pakistan's poorest province, with 45 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. There is rising resentment in the Province over the fact that, despite the annual revenue of USD 1.4 billion that the Province’s gas output generates, the Federal Government remits only USD 116 million in royalties back to the Province.
Baloch nationalist Insurgent groups, on the other hand, continued to sabotage economic infrastructure, mostly gas pipelines. According to the SATP database, 2011 recorded at least 52 incidents of attack on gas infrastructure, as against just three in 2010. At least 170 such incidents have been recorded since January 1, 2005. Significantly, the insurgents involved in these attacks focus on targeting the economic interests of the Provincial and Federal Governments, rather than causing loss of life. Of the 711 fatalities recorded in the Province in 2011, Baloch insurgents are confirmed to have been involved in the killing of 69 civilians and 43 SF personnel. The material losses inflicted by the Baloch insurgents, however, are very substantial. The Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) Balochistan General Manager Mohammad Haroon had noted, on February 14, 2011, “Last year , the SSGC suffered a loss of over PKR 100 million due to targeted attacks on gas pipelines. The company has suffered an equivalent loss this year  too, as attacks have picked up.”
Meanwhile, the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (initiation of the rights of Balochistan) package which was approved by the Parliament on November 23, 2009, acknowledging the widespread deprivation and neglect that prevailed in Balochistan, failed to deliver. The package, included six constitutional, five political, 16 administrative and 34 economic proposals, and set a three-years implementation period. It has, however, so far succeeded in ‘delivering’ just 34 of the 61 proposals – though even for these the actual benefits accruing to the people are questionable. The Federal and Provincial Governments are, moreover, yet to initiate several mega-projects that are part of the reforms package.
Another ground for resentment is the Government’s policy of compensation to victims of violence. On June 28, 2011, the Supreme Court was informed that PKR 400,000 was being paid by the Balochistan Government as compensation to heirs of common citizens who fell victim to bomb blasts, target killings or sectarian violence, compared to PKR two million paid to the heirs of deceased SF personnel. The Court, expectedly, asked the Federal and Provincial Governments to consider removing the discrepancy by enhancing, to a reasonable level, the amount of compensation for common citizens arguing, “Is a common citizen a lesser species?”
Islamabad has sought to pacify the Baloch by offering peace talks with the nationalist rebels. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, on June 5, 2011, stated that the Government was ready for ‘political dialogue’ with estranged Baloch leaders, in the larger national interest. Again, on October 11, 2011, he declared that the Government wanted reconciliation and remained prepared to hold talks with “dissident Baloch brethren” to find an amicable solution to the issues of Balochistan. The Baloch, however, appear to have lost faith in the establishment. Balochistan BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal, on July 15, 2011, had noted that the Government was neither strong enough nor serious enough to resolve the Balochistan issue. He added, further, that announcements of packages, and the formation of jirgas and committees, were aimed at deceiving the Baloch people.
Islamabad’s policy of encouraging Islamist extremists, while using brute force against those demanding genuine rights and redressal of long standing grievances, can only lead to a continuing blood bath in the resource rich Province, creating more trouble for the increasingly crippled national economy. Peace can only remain elusive in Balochistan as long as Islamabad’s duplicity persists.
Source: South Asia Intelligence Review