Pakistan’s government should immediately act to end the epidemic of killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Balochistan, Human Rights Watch said.
Across Balochistan since January 2011, at least 150 people have been abducted and killed and their bodies abandoned – acts widely referred to as “kill and dump” operations, in which Pakistani security forces engaged in counterinsurgency operations may be responsible. Assailants have also carried out targeted killings of opposition leaders and activists. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented enforced disappearances by Pakistan’s security forces in Balochistan, including several cases in which those “disappeared” have been found dead. (See appendix.)
“The surge in unlawful killings of suspected militants and opposition figures in Balochistan has taken the brutality in the province to an unprecedented level,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should investigate all those responsible, especially in the military and Frontier Corps, and hold them accountable.”
In the first 10 days of July, nine bullet-riddled bodies, several of them bearing marks of torture, were discovered in the province, Human Rights Watch said. On July 1, the body of Abdul Ghaffar Lango, a leader of the Balochistan National Party (BNP), was found in an abandoned hotel in the town of Gadani, in the Lasbela district. The local police told the media that, “The body bore multiple marks of brutal torture.” Lango had been abducted by men in civilian clothes in Karachi, in Sindh province, on December 11, 2009. When Lango’s relatives tried to lodge a complaint about his abduction, the police refused to take it. An officer told the family that Lango had been detained because he was a BNP leader and that the “authorities” wanted to restrain him from participating in politics.
Hanif Baloch, an activist with the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad), was abducted from the town of Hub, Lasbela district, on July 4. His body was found in Mach, Bolan district on July 6, with three bullet wounds to his upper body. On the same day in Kech district, the bodies of Azam Mehrab, a resident of Tump, and Rahim, a resident of Mand, were found dumped in Juzak, on the outskirts of the town of Turbat. Both had been shot dead under unknown circumstances.
While Baloch nationalist leaders and activists have long been targeted by the Pakistani security forces, since the beginning of 2011, human rights activists and academics critical of the military have also been killed, Human Rights Watch said. Siddique Eido, a coordinator for the highly regarded nongovernmental organization Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), was abducted with another man by men in security forces uniforms on December 21, 2010 from the town of Pasni in Gwadar district.
The bodies of both men, bearing marks of torture, were found in Ormara, Gwadar district, on April 28. HRCP said that “the degree of official inaction and callousness” in response to Eido’s death amounted to “collusion” in his killing. Earlier, on March 1, an HRCP coordinator for the city of Khuzdar, Naeem Sabir district, was shot and killed by unknown assailants.
On June 1, Saba Dashtiyari, a professor at the University of Balochistan and an acclaimed Baloch writer and poet, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the provincial capital, Quetta. Dashtiyari had publicly backed the cause of an independent Balochistan.
“Even the cold-blooded killing of human rights defenders and academics has not moved the Pakistani government to seriously investigate, rein in, or hold the security forces to account in Balochistan,” Adams said. “The government’s failure to open a credible investigation into the killing of someone as prominent as Saba Dashtiyari only adds fuel to the fire of anger and suspicion in the province.”
Armed militant groups in Balochistan are responsible for killing many civilians and destroying private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, police stations, and major gas installations and infrastructure. They have also attacked security forces and military bases throughout the province. Abuses by militants in Balochistan were documented by Human Rights Watch in a December 2010 report “Their Future is at Stake.”
Human Rights Watch called upon the Pakistan government to take immediate measures to end killings in Balochistan. The Pakistani authorities should conduct prompt, impartial, and transparent investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and ensure that all those responsible, regardless of rank, are fully prosecuted, including as a matter of command responsibility. Victims of abuses by government security forces should be provided appropriate redress.
“President Asif Ali Zardari should recognize that ignoring abuses in Balochistan amounts to giving a green light to the army and intelligence agencies to commit abuses elsewhere in Pakistan,” Adams said. “By failing to hold the security forces accountable for abuses in Balochistan, Pakistan’s government will feed into a cycle of violence that may haunt Pakistani democracy for years to come.”
Background on Balochistan and Human Rights Abuses
Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with Pakistan’s national government, in large part due to issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and exploration, and a consequent sense of deprivation. Under Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler from 1999 until 2008, the situation deteriorated markedly, culminating in a crackdown on Baloch nationalists by the security agencies controlled by the Pakistani military and its lead intelligence agency in the province, Military Intelligence (MI).
Since 2005, Pakistani and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have recorded numerous serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, and forced displacement of civilians.
Militancy in Balochistan has been fuelled by ethnic Baloch anger over the Pakistani government’s moves to harness local mineral and fossil fuel resources, maintain large numbers of troops in the province, and construct the Gwadar deep-sea port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf with non-Baloch workers. The Pakistani military claims that Baloch militants receive arms and financial support from India but has provided no evidence to support the claim.
In December 2009, Pakistan’s newly elected civilian government, in an effort to bring about political reconciliation in the province, passed a package of constitutional, political, administrative, and economic reforms. Nonetheless, doubts persist within Baloch society about the Pakistan government’s intentions. Divisions among Baloch nationalists have exacerbated lawlessness and violence in the province.
As the violence in Balochistan has intensified, atrocities have mounted. While the Pakistani military and Baloch militants readily exploit the misery of civilians for their own political purposes, they have failed to address these grievances or to accept responsibility for them.