By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On December 30, six people were killed and 13 were injured in an explosion near the Science College at Jinnah Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
On December 29, 2021, two Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) officials, identified as Constable Ashraf and Constable Irfan, were killed in a gun attack in Turbat town of Kech District. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
On December 24, 2021, two soldiers were killed when militants attacked a Security Force (SFs) check post in Kech District. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
On December 20, 2021, five soldiers were killed and several others injured in an attack by Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) cadres in Sibi District. BLA claimed that its fighters first targeted an Army outpost and later attacked a convoy of vehicles arriving at the outpost to assist their companions.
On December 20, 2021, four soldiers were killed in a grenade attack in Turbat town, Kech District. BLA claimed the attack.
On December 16, 2021, at least 11 Army personnel were killed when Army outposts were attacked by Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS) cadres in Tump town of Kech District. BRAS ‘spokesperson’ Baloch Khan claimed,
The outposts of Pakistani military were targeted in Azghandi Kaor, Abdoi Tagran [Tump town]. These outposts were fully captured and all enemy belongings and weaponry were confiscated by Baloch freedom fighters.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), overall fatalities in Balochistan increased from 215 in 2020 to 311 in 2021, up by 44.65 per cent. Overall fatalities were at a 15-year low of 180 in 2019. Way back in 2004, there were 117 fatalities. Balochistan alone accounted for 48.29 per cent of Pakistan’s total terrorism-linked fatalities (664 fatalities) in 2021. In 2020, Balochistan saw 42.49 per cent of the total in Pakistan, 215 out of 506.
Civilian fatalities have recorded a spike in the last two years. There were 116 civilian fatalities in 2021, 84 in 2020, and 83 in 2019. 2018, however, recorded 234 civilian fatalities.
105 SF fatalities were recorded in the province in 2021, as against 94 in 2020. The 2021 figure is the highest since 2016, when there were 154 fatalities. After a decline for three consecutive years (2017, 78; 2018, 75; and 2019, 54), fatalities have once again begun to rise.
Similarly, terrorist fatalities had started to decline in 2017, but surged sharply to 90 in 2021. There were 233 fatalities in 2016, 82 in 2017, 65 in 2018, 43 in 2019 and 37 in 2020.
Incidents of killing increased from 76 in 2020 to 110 in 2021. Incidents of killing had dropped from 148 in 2016 to 82 in 2017, 69 in 2018 and 48 in 2019. Similarly, major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) doubled from 20 in 2020 to 40 in 2021, and the resultant fatalities from 142 to 199. The number of suicide attacks remained the same, two each in 2020 and 2021. The two suicide attacks in 2021 were:
- September 5: Four Frontier Corps (FC) personnel were killed and 20 sustained injuries in a suicide attack near a FC checkpost on Mastung Road in Quetta. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.
- August 20: At least three persons, including two children, were killed and three persons, including a Chinese national, sustained injuries in a suicide attack targeting vehicles transporting Chinese nationals on the Gwadar Expressway in Gwadar District. The Majeed Brigade, the suicide unit of BLA, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The number of explosions and resultant fatalities increased from 38 and 68, respectively, in 2020, to 65 and 86, respectively, in 2021.
All the parameters of violence indicate that the overall security situation in Balochistan has deteriorated significantly in 2021.
In the meantime, the Pakistan Government persisted with its agenda of suppression of demands of Baloch nationals, using a ‘kill and dump’ strategy, which accounted for the maximum proportion of civilian fatalities in terrorism-linked violence in the province. According to the SATP database, out of 4,642 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since March 6, 2000 (data till December 31, 2021), at least 1,459 have been attributable to one or other terrorist/insurgent group. Of these, 481 civilian killings (301 in the South and 180 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 978 civilian killings, 895 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 83 in the South. The remaining 3,183 civilian fatalities – 1,760 in the South and 1,423 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’. It is widely believed that these are principally victims of the security agencies’ ‘kill and dump’ operations, particularly in the Southern region, targeting local Baloch dissidents.
An investigative report by exiled Baloch journalist Taha Siddiqui published in South Asia Press on April 27, 2021, claimed that, since 2010, the practice of using ‘death squads’ had been intensified and institutionalized, especially in the south-western parts of Balochistan where a full-fledged insurgency has been going on since the killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti on August 26, 2006. ‘Death squads’ is a militia of local goons and convicted criminals who allegedly operate at the behest of the Army, to counter the ongoing Baloch insurgency. These groups often accompany the Army in raids on the houses of political activists, dissidents and pro-independence leaders.
According to Human Rights Council of Balochistan (HRCB) data, since 2016, at least 3,802 people have been forcibly disappeared by the SFs. These include 522 in 2016; 1,225 in 2017; 642 in 2018, 568 in 2019, 480 in 2020, and 365 in 2021 (data till November 30, 2021). Of these 3,802, SFs have extrajudicially killed at least 1,576 people. 469 have reportedly been released.
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), meanwhile, claims that more than 45 thousand people have been forcibly disappeared by the Pakistan Army, and five thousand missing persons have been ‘killed and dumped’ over the last decade. VBMP vice chairman, Mama Qadeer Baloch, asserted on April 27, 2021,
Pakistani state has been startled by the widespread popularity and positive reception of the peaceful struggle in Balochistan. In its desperate attempts to quell the struggle, the state formed these inhumane, bloodthirsty ‘death squads’ and gave them a free hand to operate throughout Balochistan. These groups are directly or indirectly involved in the enforced disappearance and liquidation of student leaders, journalists, rights activists and political workers.
Again, on October 27 VBMP asserted that the Pakistani authorities had failed to take any concrete measures to end “enforced disappearances” in Balochistan.
Indeed, the menace is a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognized time and again. Most recently, on September 30, 2021, the Supreme Court declared the report submitted by the Balochistan Police on five missing persons “unsatisfactory.” Gulzar Ahmed, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, remarked that people had gone missing and the families had to run after the Police to register cases: “You (police) do not know how to investigate cases. A case of disappearance should have been registered by the police which could not be done (sic).” A three-member bench, comprising Chief Justice Ahmed, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Faisal Arab, was hearing the case at the Supreme Court’s Quetta Registry. The Court had taken suo motu notice of the disappearances.
The systematic campaign of extermination of ethnic Baloch people through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings continues unchecked.
As the situation with regard to enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings worsens, there are reports of near daily and widespread protests inside Balochistan and at other places. Protests started in Quetta and the federal capital Islamabad on November 5, after the November 1 disappearance of two students from the University of Balochistan. The protestors were demanding the safe release of Faseeh Baloch and Sohail Baloch, as well as action against “enforced disappearances,” and an end to raids on academic institutions in the province. Following the protests in the University of Balochistan, Baloch students in the Bolan Medical College, Degree College Sariab, Polytechnic College and Science College also suspended academic activities in protest against the disappearance of their fellow students from Balochistan University. Despite the protests and concerns, the whereabouts of the missing students remain unknown.
On December 10, people held a rally in Islamabad carrying placards bearing the names, pictures, and dates on which their love ones went missing. Commenting on the disappearance of university students, former Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani stated that, earlier people had disappeared from different areas, but now students had started going missing from educational institutions. He added, “Disappearance of students from Balochistan University is a very serious matter which could not be ignored.”
Islamabad’s policy of supressing the demands and protests of the Baloch people, meanwhile, remains unchanged. As long as the Government continue to target Baloch people using the SFs and their terrorist proxies, violence in Balochistan will persist.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management