Pakistan: Unending Tragedy In Balochistan – Analysis
By Ambreen Agha
While hearing the Balochistan law and order case at its Quetta Registry, the Supreme Court (SC) on October 12, 2012, passed an interim order, castigating the Government for its failure to fulfil its duty to protect life and property, and to establish peace in Balochistan. The Court directed the Federal Government to ensure public security, and underlined the constitutional responsibilities and respective authority of both the Federal and the Provincial Governments, observing:
Unfortunately in the instant case Federal Government, except deploying FC [Frontier Corps] troops, has also failed to protect Province of Balochistan from internal disturbances. Similarly, as far as Provincial Government of Balochistan is concerned it had lost its constitutional authority to govern the Province because of violation of fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan.
On November 2, 2012, facing a possible ouster in the aftermath of the judgement, Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani dismissed any kind of adverse outcome, claiming that the Provincial Government had the full support of allied parties. To Raisani’s relief, at least 46 members of the 65-member Balochistan Assembly re-affirmed confidence in his leadership. Given the Court’s observations regarding the “loss of constitutional authority to govern”, on the one hand, and the vote of confidence, on the other, Raisani and his Government’s legal position now oscillates between the constitutional and unconstitutional.
On November 8, 2012, the Federal Government, in a review petition, asserted that it was not the function of the superior courts to gauge the performance of a political Government. “Such a ruling is detrimental to the country and will serve as a licence or invitation to unseen avaricious forces,” the Federal Government asserted in its plea, noting, “The country is at war and poise is the demand of the hour. The court should adhere to the well established principle of trichotomy of powers.”
While both the Federal and Provincial Governments look for loopholes in the SC order and attempt to hide their incompetence in dealing with the enduring crisis in Balochistan, the situation continues to worsen in the Province, under the malign influence of the political establishment working in tandem with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Army. The fifth rebellion [LINK SAIR: 5.19] in the Province was initiated in 2004 by Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and, despite fiercely repressive measures adopted by Islamabad, refuses to die out. Howerver, violence in Balochistan flows from several distinct streams. The North is dominated by Islamist terrorist and Sunni sectarian formations such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); a multiplicity of Baloch nationalist groupings operate in the South, though their influence is contested both by Sectarian and Sunni extremist groupings, at least some of which operate as state proxies; there is also a relentless campaign by the state’s covert agencies to target Baloch nationalists and their sympathisers in campaigns of ‘disappearance’, and a ‘kill and dump’ policy, both directly and through sectarian/extremist proxies.
According to the partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Province has witnessed at least 3,272 fatalities, comprising of 2,092 civilians, 708 Security Force (SF) personnel and 472 militants, since 2004. Further dissection of data indicates that, while the Baloch insurgency-affected regions of South Balochistan accounted for 1,456 fatalities, including 822 civilians, 313 SF personnel and 321 and militants, the Northern areas of the Province, under the influence of Islamist terrorist formations, LeJ and TTP, recorded 1,813 fatalities, comprising 1,270 civilians, 395 SFs and 151 militants.
Further classification of data reflects that, of 2,092 civilians killed in the Province, 222 civilians (123 in South and 99 in North) were claimed by Baloch separatist formations, such as the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA); while the Islamist formations, primarily the LeJ and the TTP, claimed responsibility for the killing of 186 civilians, all in North, mostly in sectarian attacks. The remaining 1,684 fatalities remain unattributed.
Moreover, the data also shows that the civilians killed by insurgents are either the Punjabi settlers (at least 79 Punjabis have been killed), who have been located in Balochistan under Islamabad’s design to change the demography of the region, or people suspected to be spies of the state agencies. There are also some incidents in which the Government employees working on development projects have been targeted. In one such incident, on September 13, 2012, Baloch United Liberation Army (BULA) militants killed at least 10 labourers who were working in Dasht area of Mastung District. A number of civilian lives are also lost as ‘collateral damage’ in separatist attacks on SF targets. For instance, five persons, including three soldiers and two civilians were killed in bomb blast targeting a Pakistan Army vehicle outside City Hall, close to the Fauji Foundation School in a high security zone of Shahbaz Town in Quetta on November 21, 2012. BRA claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was directed against the security personnel.
A large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities are believed to be the result of enforced disappearances carried out by the state agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). Sectarian violence orchestrated by Islamabad-backed Islamist formations is also responsible for a significant proportion of civilian fatalities.
Qadeer Baloch, Vice President of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, claims that as many as 14,362 people, including 150 women, had ‘disappeared’ in Balochistan since 2001, and at least 370 mutilated bodies had been recovered from different parts of the Province since the latest cycle of insurgency broke out in 2004.
TNAB, said to be the armed wing of the Muttahida Mahaz Balochistan (United Front Balochistan), headed by Siraj Raisani, the brother of Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), had claimed the killing of many Baloch nationalists, and had also announced its intention to kill another 35 on its hit list. TNAB allegedly formed by the state’s covert agencies, particularly the ISI, to crush the Baloch nationalist movement, is conspicuous by its absence from the Federal Ministry of Interior list of 31 banned outfits released on November 5, 2011. The list included six Baloch organisations. Despite its public claims of abductions and executions, no action by security agencies against the TNAB is yet on record.
Significantly, the US State Department, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 recorded reports of civilian casualties and extrajudicial killings committed by Government SFs during operations against militants. The report stated that disappearances from Balochistan remained a problem, with Baloch political groups demanding political and human rights. At least 355 dead bodies of missing persons were found from June 2010 to December 2011, the report observed.
In fact, the civilian fatalities strengthen the widespread belief that the Security Agencies are busy with their “kill and dump” operations against local Baloch dissidents. Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its 2011 Pakistan Annual Report, released in January 2012, documented continued “disappearances” and an upsurge in killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the Military, Intelligence Agencies and the Paramilitary FC personnel. Indeed, Brad Adams, Asia Director at HRW said, “Pakistan’s security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants ‘disappear,’ and in many cases are executed. This is not counterinsurgency – it is barbarism and it needs to end now.”
Adding to the augmenting corpus of material on military excesses in Balochistan is HRW’s 132 page report ‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan,’ based on over 100 interviews with family members of “disappeared” people, former detainees, local human rights activists, lawyers, and witnesses to Government abductions, in the Province in 2010 and 2011. The report investigated several cases in which uniformed personnel of the FC and the Police were involved in abducting Baloch nationalists and suspected militants. The report stated, further, that in other cases, witnesses typically referred to abductors as being from “the agencies,” a term commonly used to describe the Intelligence Agencies, including ISI Directorate, Military Intelligence (MI), and the civilian Intelligence Bureau (IB). Those targeted for enforced disappearance are primarily Baloch nationalist activists or suspected Baloch insurgents.
The current year alone has witnessed a total of 884 fatalities, including 653 civilians, 129 SF personnel and 102 militants. While 307 fatalities, comprising of 223 civilians, 37 SFs and 47 terrorists took place in the South, the fatalities in the North stood at 577, comprising of 430 civilians, 92 SF personnel and 55 terrorists. Out of the 653 civilians killed, the Baloch insurgents claimed involvement in the killing of 55 (33 in the south and 22 in the north), while the Islamist formations claimed 41 civilian killings, all in North, and primarily in sectarian attacks. The remaining 557 civilian deaths are, again, not claimed by any of the outfits and may fall in the category of either extra judicial killings or unclaimed sectarian violence. While the HRCP reported the discovery of 57 bodies of people who had gone missing from various parts of the province in 2012 alone, SATP data shows a total of 134 Shias killed in sectarian attacks alone.
Significantly, attacks carried out by the Baloch nationalists have overwhelmingly targeted the economic infrastructure of the province, mainly gas pipelines, power pylons and railway tracks, and have principally been non-lethal in intent. According to partial data compiled by SATP a total of 193 incidents of sabotaging gas pipelines have been recorded since 2004. Notably, there have been no deaths in 23 such incidents already recorded this year.
Baloch anger dates back almost to the moment of the creation of Pakistan. Immediately after Partition, the Khan of Kalat declared Balochistan independent on August 15, 1947. However, on April 1, 1948, the Army of the newly formed Pakistan invaded Balochistan, forcing the Khan of Kalat’s surrender, and the subsequent merger of Pakistan’s four Provinces under the homogenizing “One Unit” policy in 1954. However, the policy backfired as the Baloch nationalists initiated an anti-“One Unit” movement, and subsequently rose in repeated rebellions, each of which was brutally suppressed – in 1958, 1962, 1964 and 1973-77. The last Baloch insurrection, however, rages on, nearly eight years after its commencement, despite a military campaign that is now attracting international censure for its vicious excesses.
Referring to the perpetual presence of the military in the Province, Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP) chief, Talal Bugti on October 9, 2012, threatened to boycott the next General Elections if the “ongoing military operation” was not called off. Endorsing the stance of Balochistan National Party (BNP) leader Akhtar Mengal, Talal declared that the safe and speedy return of the many ‘missing persons’ in the Province would be the key to peace. In another statement on the military operations, Balochistan Republican Party (BRP) central spokesman Mir Sher Mohammad Bugti, observed, “Occupying Forces (the Pakistan Army) have intensified military operations in Balochistan after the concerns expressed by the American State Department on genocide of the Baloch nation and human rights violations by occupying Forces in Balochistan.” He stated, further, that the Army had made certain areas of Balochistan, including Dera Bugti and Kohlu Districts, no-go zones for the media and human rights organizations.
Declaring enforced ‘disappearances’ engineered by the SFs and intelligence agencies the real cause of the current unrest, the former Chief Minister of Balochistan, Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, on September 27, 2012, presented a six-point charter to initiate a meaningful reconciliation process:
- all covert and overt military operations against Baloch people should be ended immediately;
- all missing persons should be produced before a court of law;
- all proxy death squads operating in the Province, on the model of the Al Shams and Al Badar in Bangladesh, allegedly under the supervision of the ISI and MI, should be disbanded;
- Baloch political parties should be allowed to function and resume their political activities without any interference from intelligence agencies;
- persons responsible for inhuman torture, killing and dumping of bodies of Baloch political leaders and activists should be brought to justice;
- And measures should be initiated for rehabilitation of thousands of displaced Baloch, currently living in appalling conditions.
Astonishingly, and despite the high death toll in the Province, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, on February 12, 2012, declared emphatically that no military operation was under way in Balochistan. “Not a single soldier of the Army is combating in Balochistan (sic),” the Army Chief asserted. Kayani is, of course, using the fig leaf of the FC’s identity as a “paramilitary force” and not an Army unit, in this justification. The FC, however, operates under direct Army command.
Further, the evidence of the Army’s direct involvement in Balochistan was confirmed during the September 28, 2012, SC hearing on the law and order situation in the Province, when Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary remarked that all overt and covert military operations must be put to an end and the displaced Baloch should be rehabilitated. He said that the ‘Death Squads’ of the ISI and MI should be abolished.
Apart from the SC’s observations, the situation on the ground further illustrates the dominance of the military in the Province. Incidentally on November 15, 2012, BRP spokesperson Sher Muhammad Bugti’s son, Haq Nawaz Bugti, was killed in a clash with FC personnel in Nushki District. Haq’s killing is not the lone high profile killing of Baloch leaders to crush Baloch dissidence. The year 2012, for instance, began with the killing of Zamur Domki (34), the wife, and Jaana Domki (13), the daughter of the Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Mir Bakhtiar Domki. They were shot dead near Gizri flyover in Karachi (Sindh) on January 31, 2012. Zamur and Jaana were also the sister and niece, respectively, of BRP leader Brahamdagh Khan Bugti, and the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. The killing was only one manifestation of the campaign of political assassinations carried out by Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies.
In a clear reference to military operations in Balochistan, the BRP central spokesman Sher Mohammad Bugti, in a press release on June 15, 2012, declared,
Pakistani occupying forces are conducting a massive military offensive in Kohistan Marri region of Balochistan from last many days where heavy aerial bombardment is still going on which so far has claimed more than a dozen lives of innocent Baloch people and many have been wounded. Innocent Baloch populations of the area are forced to migrate. Many areas of Kohistan Marri region including Bhambor, Tratani, Tadri and adjoining are completely under heavy bombardment of occupying Pakistani forces and the offensive is now being extended to many parts of Dera Bugti where more innocent people are feared to become the victims of Pakistani bombardment.
The Baloch separatist sentiment is hardening in the wake of continued state neglect and intensifying atrocities and disappearances engineered by the state and its agencies. Islamabad’s cynical and callous approach towards the Baloch has served as a catalytic force in the growth of sub-nationalist sentiments. Though rich in mineral wealth, Balochistan remains poor because of Islamabad’s relentless exploitation, neglect and excesses. Jumma Khan Marri, President of the Baloch Unity Organisation, thus observed,
The problems of the Baloch are certainly not going to end with the policy that the Governments here have adopted since 1947. The alienation keeps on increasing and the youth keeps joining the ranks of fighters. The callous and heartless approach of the Federal Government and the continued atrocities by the law enforcement agencies is all adding up as the proverbial straw on the camel’s back; what is going to prove to be the last straw is anybody’s guess, or has the last straw already been placed in form of this apathy?
More worryingly, the SFs’ preoccupation with their “kill and dump” operations, appear to have created ample space for Islamist extremist formations to thrive and continue their sectarian killings. Sectarian terrorist outfits, such as the LeJ, have operated with widespread impunity, as the State and its agencies turn a blind eye to the massacre of the beleaguered Hazara Shia community. The Governments’ inaction in mounting a concerted and effective campaign against sectarian terrorist groups has inevitably emboldened them in the region.
Islamabad’s strategy of supporting armed fundamentalist formations and other violent proxies, to compound military and covert intelligence campaigns, indicate that the crisis in Balochistan is set to linger on for an indefinite period, despite international pressure and growing, publicly articulated, judicial concerns.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management