By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On July 29, 2022, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) cadres shot dead one ‘death squad’ member, identified as Zafar, son of Muhammad Jan, resident of Zamuran, in the Kalatuk Meno area of Kech District in Balochistan.
Claiming responsibility for the killing, BLF ‘spokesman’ ‘Major’ Gwahram Baloch alleged that Zafar was an ‘effective’ member of the network of the ‘occupying state’, that was operating against the Baloch national liberation struggle and had been specially tasked by the Army to monitor Nasirabad, Koh Shoormah Band, and surrounding areas. Gwahram Baloch added that Zafar was constantly active and participated in ‘aggressions’ with the Army in these areas. He was also involved in state-backed theft, dacoity, drug trafficking, land grabs and other felonies.
On July 9, 2022, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) shot dead two ‘death squad’ members, identified as Rahim Din, s/o Shehbaz and Qadir Baksh s/o Abdul Fatah, in the Mangochar area of Kalat District in Balochistan. BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack and alleged that these two persons were
…working on the payroll of the Pakistani state and were involved in spying on Baloch pro-independence groups and the enforced disappearances of the Baloch youth. They had accompanied and assisted the Pakistani forces in their military operations in Nagahu and Shurparod areas. Furthermore, the duo were also a part of a death squad and were involved in the enforced disappearance of the Baloch youth and spying on pro-independence groups.
On June 20, 2022, BLF cadres killed one death squad member, identified as Nazeer, son of Huzoor Bakhsh, in the Tank area of Mashkay tehsil (revenue unit) in Awaran District.
On June 6, BLF cadres killed a ‘death squad’ member, Meer Irshad Jatak, at Kand Kashi in Zehri, Khuzdar District. BLF ‘spokesman’ Gwahram Baloch claimed that Jatak was involved in the forcible disappearances and ‘martyrdom’ of many Baloch people at the hands of state forces, as well as in extorting money from innocent and common people and forcing them to ‘surrender’ to the Security Forces (SFs).
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), during the first seven months and seven days of 2022 (data till August 7, 2022), eight ‘death squad’ members have been killed and five injured in seven attacks. During the corresponding period of 2021, four such incidents resulted in three deaths and six injuries. One incident was reported in the remaining part of 2021, in which one ‘death squad’ member was killed and two were injured.
One of the most prominent killings of a ‘death squad’ member in recent time was on May 21, 2022, when BLF cadres shot dead Noor Ahmad Bangulzae, an important accomplice of Siraj Raisani, the former head of the death squads. Bangulzae was killed in front of the District Headquarters Hospital in Mastung town (Mastung District). BLF ‘spokesman’ Gwahram Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack and alleged that, after Siraj Raisani’s death on July 13, 2018, Bangulzae had been given all the responsibilities on the political scene and was projected as the leader of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). His group was active in the areas around Mastung and Bolan, and was involved in the kidnapping and killing of Baloch fighters, as well as in robbery, kidnapping for ransom and extortion.
Earlier, on February 27, BLA cadres killed BAP leader and alleged Kalat District ‘death squad’ chief Agha Habib Shah, in a targeted explosion near the Shakir Hotel on the Karachi-Quetta National Highway in Hub town (Hub District). BLA claimed that members of its Special Tactical Operations Squad carried out the attack. The BLA statement read,
…Habib Shah abandoned the Baloch freedom struggle and surrendered before the enemy forces in 2016. Since then, he was heading a death squad in Kalat under the patronage of Zia Langove.
Zia Langove is the current Provincial Minister for Forest and Wildlife.
‘Death squads’ are locally armed militia of criminals in Balochistan who are patronized by the Army in their mission of carrying out enforced disappearances and the state’s ‘kill-and-dump policy’. These groups often accompany SFs during raids on the homes of political activists, dissidents and ‘pro-independence’ leaders.
The ‘death squads’ are partners in crime in the SF’s systematic campaign of extermination of ethnic Baloch people through enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, of the 4,500 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 (data till August 7, 2022), at least 1,424 have been attributable to one or other terrorist/insurgent outfit. Of these, 453 civilian killings (277 in the South and 176 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 971 civilian killings, 888 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 83 in the South. The remaining 3,076 civilian fatalities – 1,729 in the South and 1,347 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’, and are largely believed to have been the handiwork of the SFs and their death squad proxies.
In exchange for their services, the Security Forces (SFs) have given a free hand to these death squads throughout Balochistan. They engage in a range of illegal activities, including drug dealing, smuggling of weapons, and running terror training camps and private jails, under the encouraging eye of intelligence agencies.
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.
Several other local militia groups in Balochistan were raised as death squads, including the Zakaria M. Hasni-led death squad in Khuzdar; the Deen Muhammad Deenu-led group in Awaran; another led by Samir Sabzal, Rashid Pathan and Sardar Aziz in Kech; the Maqbool Shambezi group in Panjgur and the Siraj Raisani group in Mastung. Siraj Raisani was killed on July 13, 2018, when a suicide bomber targeted a BAP political rally, killing at least 128 people and injuring more than 200 at Dringarh village in Mastung District.
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.
While death squads operate against the Baloch people under state impunity as a result of their cooperation and association with intelligence agencies and the Army, they have now come under increasing threat from Baloch militant groups. It remains to be seen how these murderous gangs protect themselves, and are protected by the state’s agencies.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management