Pakistan: ‘Death Squads’ Unleashed In Balochistan – Analysis
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On April 28, 2021, one Policeman was killed and eight others, including three Policemen, were injured in a bomb blast in the main market of Qila Abdullah town in Qila Abdullah District.
On April 27, 2021, four Frontier Crops (FC) personnel were injured when Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) militants lobbed a grenade on the FC checkpoint located at Cinema Chowk in Turbat town, Kech District. Gohram Baloch, BLF ‘spokesperson’, declared that BLF cadres attacked the checkpoint and warned the general public not to venture too close to FC posts, as BLF cadres could attack these at any time.
On April 25, 2021, unidentified assailants shot dead two death squad members in the Aabsar area of Turbat town in Kech District. Though, no group claimed responsibility, generally, Baloch insurgents have targeted the pro-Government ‘support groups’ that form death squads.
On April 21, 2021, at least five persons, including a Police official, were killed and another 12 sustained injuries, when a bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Serena Hotel located on the Shahrah-e-Zarghun Road in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Balochistan Home Minister Mir Ziaullah Langove disclosed that the Chinese ambassador Nong Rong was the apparent target of the attack. Serena Hotel was hosting the ambassador, but he was not present at the hotel at the time of the attack. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the blast, but subsequently claimed that the Chinese ambassador was not its target.
On March 28, 2021, one Army trooper and a passer-by were killed when BLF militants targeted an Army check-post in Salala Bazar in Turbat city, Kech District. BLF ‘spokesperson’ Gorham Baloch appealed to the civilians to keep distance from convoys, check-posts and camps of the Pakistani Army.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), during the first four months and two days of 2021, Balochistan has recorded 68 fatalities – 42 civilians, 20 Security Force (SF) personnel and six militants – in 26 incidents of killing. During the corresponding period of 2020, 60 fatalities – 24 civilians, 27 SF personnel and nine militants – were recorded. Through 2020, there were 215 fatalities, up from 180 fatalities recorded in 2019.
Baloch militants have intensified their ‘operations’ in reaction to the Pakistan Army’s increased cruelty in the region, as Pakistan’s ‘kill and dump’ policy in the Province has intensified. More and more mutilated dead bodies, in different stages of decomposition, are being recovered in different parts of Balochistan. Most recently, the mutilated bodies of four persons were found in the Aas Rayli area of Sui Tehsil (revenue unit) in Dera Bugti District on March 31, 2021. In a communication sent to the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Morris Tidball-Linz, on April 2, 2021, the Baloch American Congress (BAC) president Tara Chand Baloch, disclosed that the “place where the mass grave was found was used as an army camp of Pakistan, making it clear the soldiers were responsible for carrying out the heinous crime.”
At least seven bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies have been already been recovered in 2021. A systematic campaign of extermination of ethnic Baloch people through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the South of the Province remains unabated. According to partial data compiled by SATP, of the 4,574 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since March 6, 2000 (data till May 2, 2021), at least 1,435 have been attributable to one or another terrorist/insurgent outfit. Of these, 457 civilian killings (284 in the South and 173 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), 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 3,139 civilian fatalities – 1,737 in the South and 1,402 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, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognized.
According to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), which completed its 4297th day of protest on April 27, 2021, 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.
Earlier, on June 4, 2020, the Baloch National Movement (BNM) had urged the international community, especially neighbouring countries including India, to protect the Baloch people from the Army’s death squads.
While, the world has turned a deaf ear to the enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Baloch nationalists, the Pakistan Army has outsourced the targeting and killing of Baloch activists, pro-independence leaders and workers to private ‘death squads’ – 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.
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.
Shafiq-ur-Rehman Mengal formed the first ‘death squad’ in Balochistan in 2008 – the Musallah Defah Tanzeem (MDT) – with the mission of ‘defending’ the public from pro-independence groups. Mengal had the support of the Pakistan Army, and his powerful connections helped him raise his militia. Mengal initiated a reign of terror in Balochistan, killing not only suspected nationalists but also political, non-political and tribal rivals. Mengal is also ‘credited’ with the mass graves discovered in 2014 in Tootak, a rural area 55 kilometres to the north of Khuzdar, where 169 dead bodies were recovered.
At a young age, Mengal became associated with the extortion mafias of Karachi in the Sindh Province. Hyderabad was his centre of activities. When General (Retd.) Pervez Musharaf came to power in October 1999, state security agencies selected Shafiq Mengal and his brother Atta-ur-Rehman as state ‘agents of death’ in Balochistan.
Several other local militia groups in Balochistan were raised as death squads. Shafiq Mengal and the Zakaria M. Hasni-led ‘death squad’ in Khuzdar; Deen Muhammad Deenu’s group in Awaran; squads led by Samir Sabzal, Rashid Pathan and Sardar Aziz in Kech; and units led by Maqbool Shambezi in Panjgur and Siraj Raisani in Mastung. Siraj Raisani was killed on July 13, 2018, when a suicide bomber targeted a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), killing at least 128 people and injuring more than 200 others at Dringarh village in Mastung District.
Not surprisingly, Baloch groups have also targeted death squad members as well. At least seven of these have been killed in 2021, thus far (data till May 2, 2021). Most recently, on March 10, 2021, BLF militants shot dead a prominent death squad member, Haider Siah-Pad, near the Levies Police Station in Kharan town (Kharan District). BLF ‘spokesman’ Gwahram Baloch subsequently stated that Haider was a key figure in a death squad and was at the forefront of targeted killings.
While the Military Establishment has always sought to distance itself from enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings and of Baloch activists, there is not an iota of doubt that the deep state is using death squads to supress the Baloch nationalist movement. The Pakistan Supreme Court has sought, but has failed comprehensively, to impose some measure of accountability. The rampage of death squads in Balochistan, consequently, shows no signs of waning.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management