By Ajai Sahni and Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Zamur Domki (34), the wife, and Jaana Domki (13), the daughter of the Balochistan Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Mir Bakhtiar Domki, were shot dead near Gizri flyover of Karachi on January 31, 2012. The driver of their vehicle was also killed. Zamur and Jaana were also the sister and niece, respectively, of Baloch Republican Party (BRP) leader Brahamdagh Khan Bugti, and the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, one time Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan, a former Federal Minister of State for the Interior, and eventual rebel leader, who was killed in a military operation in August 2006 , by then President Pervez Musharraf’s regime.
According to the eyewitness account of a helper’s 12 year old daughter, who was also in the vehicle, but whose life was spared, the incident occurred a short distance from the residence of Zamur Domki’s maternal uncle in the exclusive and heavily policed Clifton area, with a Police unit “spectating (sic) from a distance”. The Baloch nationalist website Balochwarna records,
Between 1 and 1:30 AM on the 31st of January, shortly after leaving the uncle’s house, a black coloured car intercepted Bugti’s car near Gizri Bridge, Clifton. A man dressed in black shalwar kameez and wearing a black face mask jumped out of the car and shot the driver, Barkat Baloch, as they tried to get away. The driver was killed on the spot as a result of multiple bullet wounds to the head. Then the assailant opened the rear door at which point two bikes arrived at the scene and parked on the left and right side of the car. Upon opening the door, Zamur Bugti offered her jewellery, phone and valuables to the man, thinking that he was a robber. In response the killer told Zamur that he didn’t need her valuables and that he was there to kill her and her daughter, in urdu. Zamur Bugti told him to spare her daughter and that he could kill her. At this point the killer went to the daughter who was sitting on the front passenger seat and fired multiple shots at her, hitting her in the chest and neck.
Zamur Bugti was made to witness the brutal killing of her daughter. Zamur Bugti was then shot over a dozen times in the head, face and neck at point blank range and was left in a pool of blood. During this incident, the police were spectating from a distance.
These ‘target killings’ have all the characteristics of a political assassination by Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies, in a long succession of what have come to be known as “kill and dump” operations targeting Baloch rebels, dissidents, and their families, both within and outside Balochistan. Commentators have noted that their apparent intent was to send a “chilling message” to Brahamdagh Bugti, currently living in exile in Geneva. Pakistani efforts to secure Brahamdagh’s extradition have recently failed.
Qadeer Baloch, Vice President of 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. Giving far more conservative estimates of confirmed disappearances, Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a non-government body, notes, “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.” The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) had estimated the number of executions of ‘disappeared’ persons at 270 in just six months, between July and December 2010. The disappearances and killings are widely believed to be orchestrated by Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies, particularly including the Frontier Corps (FC) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). According to AHRC, TNAB had confessed to the killing of many Baloch nationalists, and had also announced its intention to kill another 35 on its hit list. TNAB is 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. TNAB has allegedly been formed by secret agencies, particularly by the ISI, to crush the Baloch nationalist movement. On November 5, 2011, TNAB had claimed responsibility for the killing of two abducted Baloch activists. Their bodies were recovered with marks of extreme torture, and bullet wounds to the head – a pattern widely seen in executions attributed to FC and intelligence agencies as well. TNAB had also declared they were holding another four people, who would be killed ‘soon’. Significantly, while the Federal Ministry of Interior released a list of 31 banned outfits on November 5, 2011, including six Baloch organisations, the TNAB was conspicuous by its absence from the list. Despite its public claims of abductions and executions, no action by security agencies against the TNAB is yet on record.
Very significantly, news trickling out of Balochistan indicates that the Army intensified operations in the Bugti areas on January 31, 2012, precisely the date of the Domki killings. Ground operations, backed by helicopter gunships and fighter jets, were launched in Sui, Gopat, Pir Koh, Uch and adjacent areas. Initial reports confirm three deaths, including one woman, and ‘critical injuries’ to at least 15 Baloch villagers. In a statement on the operations, BRP central spokesman Mir Sher Mohammad Bugti, observed that, “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, no-go zones for the media and human rights organizations. On January 15, 2012, Victoria Nuland, the US State Department Spokesperson, had stated, “The US is deeply concerned about the ongoing violence in Balochistan, especially targeted killings, disappearances and other human rights abuses… This is a complex issue. We strongly believe that the best way forward is for all the parties to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue… And we also urge them to really lead and conduct a dialogue that takes this issue forward.”
Earlier, in April 2011, when reports of Army operations in Dera Bugti trickled out into the media, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had stated, on April 18, 2011, that troops in Balochistan would return to barracks “soon”, and no operation would be carried out in the Province without the permission of the Provincial Government. Kayani had claimed that not even a single Army unit was conducting any operations in Balochistan, adding that just two battalions were ‘present’ in the Sui area of the Province. Chief Minister Raisani, on May 5, 2011, had gone even further, to claim that there were no Army troops or tanks present in the Province.
The truth is hard to come by in Balochistan, with one of the most repressive media regimes imposed by the state, its covert agencies, and its armed non-state proxies. On January 25, 2012, senior journalists at the Quetta Press Club described Balochistan as the ‘second most dangerous place’ on earth, after Afghanistan, for journalists. Earlier on November 26, 2011, the Baloch Muttahida Diffah Army (BMDA), an ISI-backed front outfit, issued a hit list of four journalists – Abdullah Kidrani, Abdullah Shawani, Munir Noor and Abdul Haq – from the Khuzdar District, and declared that they would soon be ‘targeted’. Mir Jang Baloch, BMDA spokesman, stated that journalists who were working as informers of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and other separatist groups would be punished. Subsequently, the Khuzdar Press Club had announced that all journalists of the Khuzdar District would suspend their “professional duties” for an indefinite period, commencing November 27, 2011, which is still on till date. The threat extends beyond media professionals to all groups seeking to uncover state excesses. The Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 notes,
Since the beginning of 2011, human rights activists and academics critical of the military have also been killed in the Province. They include Siddique Eido, a coordinator for the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); Saba Dashtiyari, a professor at the University of Balochistan and an acclaimed Baloch writer and poet; and Baloch politician Abdul Salam… .
Unsurprisingly, there is little expectation that the truth of the latest high profile assassinations will ever see the light, and establishment statements are already muddying the waters, suggesting that the killings were a part of a family blood feud, or of tribal rivalries. Pakistan’s Minister for the Interior, Rehman Malik, has sought to blame ‘foreign agencies’ and a ‘conspiracy against the country’, claiming, “Whenever we head towards positive development in Balochistan such things start happening.” A Joint Investigation Team, headed by an Inspector General of Police, has been established to look into what Interior Minister Malik concedes, is “not an ordinary incident”. Further, the National Assembly’s (NA’s) Standing Committee on Defence has summoned the country’s various intelligence agencies to give an in camera briefing on the incident and on the “poor security situation” in Balochistan, on February 29.
These steps have, obviously, failed to inspire significant confidence among the Baloch, and particularly among members of the bereaved family. Bakhtiar Domki has already declared, “I do not expect justice.”
News of the Domki killings paralysed wide areas across Balochistan with a ‘shutter down’ strike and mass protests in Quetta, Sibi, Turbat, Dera Allahyar, Naushki, Mastung, Hub, Washuk, Khuzdar and other parts of the Province. The strike was called by the BRP and backed by the Balochistan Nationalist Party (BNP), National Party (NP) and other Baloch nationalist formations. The protests continued well into February 4, when the Police opened fire on demonstrators blocking the National Highway near the bridge over River Nari in Sibi. Two civilians were killed and another four, including a TV cameraman, were injured. A near complete blackout of news on atrocities in Balochistan has been imposed, worsening the already heavily restricted news flows from the Province, and all Urdu channels in the Province were shut down after the January 31 incident.
The Domki killings have also provoked retaliatory violence by Baloch militant formations. On February 1, 2012, BLA cadres attacked four security Check Posts and killed at least 15 FC personnel, and injured another 12, near the Margat coalmines in the Mach area of Bolan District. BLA spokesperson Mirak Baloch claimed the attack, declaring, “It is a reaction to the January 31, 2011, killings of granddaughter and great-grand-daughter of Nawab Akbar Bugti in Karachi.” With military operations also escalating, a bloody cycle of violence is inevitable.
Indeed, the Baloch separatist sentiment has been hardening continuously in the wake of continuous neglect and intensifying atrocities, disappearances and killings by the state and its proxies. Militant Baloch nationalist groupings have continuously sustained their campaigns against Islamabad since Nawab Bugti initiated the fifth rebellion in the Province in 2004. In December 2011, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, leader of the BNP-Mengal had warned that “Balochistan will not remain with you (Pakistan)”, if extrajudicial killings and Security Force excesses did not end ‘immediately’.
The Domki murders, finding their victims in a woman and a child from one of the most prominent Baloch families, suggest that Islamabad and its military masters continue to believe that the Baloch sentiment can easily be ignored, and the independence movement in the Province can be crushed once again, as it already has been on four earlier occasions. It is precisely such arrogance that led to the loss of Pakistan’s eastern wing, and the creation of Bangladesh. More sagacious opinion in Pakistan is already recognizing a threat to the ‘Federation’ in the vicious cycle of state and rebel violence in Balochistan. It remains to be seen whether a military and political leadership – which appears to have embarked on a suicidal enterprise both within Pakistan and in its wider neighbourhood – has the capacity to learn any lessons from the enduring disaster that is its own history.
Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management & SATP
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty,
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management