What Director General (DG) of Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) told us about the improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a Frontier Corps vehicle on May 8 in Kech district of Southern Balochistan was that it had claimed the lives of six Pakistan army men (including an officer identified as Major Nadeem Abbas Bhatti). What DGISPR didn’t mention was that besides these six security force personnel, three minors who were travelling in the same vehicle were also killed in the IED blast and we learnt of this from none other than Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, the current chief of Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) an armed rebel group fighting against occupational Pakistan army in Balochistan.
For the social media savvy ISPR, which never fails to exploit even the most insignificant incident in order to either score a point or berate its opponents, its stoic silence on this horrific ‘collateral damage’ is rather intriguing. Three young lives being extinguished so brutally would most certainly generate widespread public rage against the perpetuators as well as evoke sympathy for both the deceased army men and the young boys. So, one would have expected the ISPR to cash on the killing of civilians in this blast, but inexplicably, it didn’t do so. On the other hand, for the BLF chief to admit that besides killing the army personnel, the IED triggered by Baloch fighters had also claimed three young lives of local Balochis too is equally surprising, because on the face of it, this admission of civilian casualties by the BLA chief amounts to shooting oneself in the foot!
But things get clear from the tweet of another BLF commander Akhter Nadeem that reads “Army is using the jobless & junkies as cannon fodder in Balochistan. Those got blown up with Maj Nadeem are a clear example. If they were killed otherwise there would’ve been an outrage.” This explains why DG ISPR chose to avoid any mention of the three young boys killed in the IED blast and also confirms the existence of ‘death squads’ created by Pakistan army to target dissidents in Balochistan through its infamous ‘kill and dump’ policy. According to local sources, during his year-long Balochistan tenure, Maj Nadeem had created ‘regional death squads’ and let them loose to not only attack rebels but also their families and relatives.
Normally, one would have rejected such claims, especially since they are coming from Balochis who could well have an axe to grind with the deceased Major. But the allegation of him having ‘death squads’ is confirmed by a photograph in which he can be seen posing with gun toting civilians. What’s interesting to note is that while two of them are holding Heckler and Koch (H&K) G3 rifles, which are the standard issue army rifles produced by Pakistan Ordnance Factory, one civilian is armed with a H&K MP5 submachinegun (again a regular Pakistan army issue weapon). Even a novice will realise that this photograph wasn’t snapped randomly it was a calculative move to bolster his image as a ruthless commander amongst the locals!
However, it would be unfair to portray Major Nadeem as the original ‘sinner’ or devil incarnate especially when he’s no more there to defend himself or explain his actions. Furthermore, neither is he the first or only Pakistan army officer who resorted to use extrajudicial means for combating Baloch fighters. He was only following what had been happening all along, and there’s no doubt that Pakistan army will continue to use repressive measures like enforced disappearances and its abhorrent ‘abduct- torture-kill and dump’ policy in an effort to subjugate the people of Balochistan. If the army is not involved in any wrong doings in Balochistan, then why did it prevent members of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan from visiting the mass graves sites discovered near Tootak village in Khuzdar district of Balochistan in 2014, that contained more than 100 dead bodies?
Just last year, the then DGISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor made a brutally frank admission about Pakistan army’s professional ethos for which he deserves due credit. During a press conference, while replying to a question on missing persons posed by senior journalist Hamid Mir of Geo TV, the DGISPR replied, “We don’t want any person to go missing but where there is a war, you have to do a number of (undesirable) things. It’s said that everything is fair in love and war. War occurs to be ruthless”? Unfortunately, despite coming from a serving two-star General of Pakistan army, this honest confession doesn’t seem to have been taken as seriously by the international community as it should have been because no one has asked Islamabad to rein-in the army.
In which democracy (other than Pakistan) does one find an army equating an armed uprising by its own citizens as ‘war’? Rawalpindi’s gross mindset that “We don’t want any person to go missing but where there is a war, you have to do a number of (undesirable) things,” is reflected in its shameful act of ‘disappearing’ 54 Indian combatants who had been taken Prisoners of War during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict. But even during a full-scale war, which other army in the world sanctions the ‘enforced disappearance’ of soldiers or even civilians? Lastly, besides Pakistan’s military, which other civilised modern-day army follows the perverse ‘all is fair in love and war’ doctrine?
Whereas indiscriminate exploitation of Balochistan’s natural resources by Pakistan without caring for the welfare of its people has provided the Balochis a very strong ideological foundation to oppose Islamabad’s undemocratic practices, but it’s Pakistan army’s excesses against innocent Balochis and ill treatment of the womenfolk and children that has forced peace-loving Balochis to pick up guns. The case of two young Balochis (Shahdad Baloch and Ehsan Baloch) who attained martyrdom on May 1 while fighting the Pakistan army shows how even industrious and well-educated youth are being compelled to abandon their academic pursuits and join the ‘armed struggle’ against the oppressive Pakistan army.
Shahdad was a diligent student, who after completing his Master’s Degree in Defence and Strategic Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad had enrolled in the M Phil program at the National Institute of Pakistan Studies. Though he did participate in university level political activities, he was a docile person by nature who abhorred violence and strongly believed that dialogue was the only way to resolve issues. Even though he had been abducted in 2015 and held in secret custody during which he was severely tortured by the ISI, Shahdad still did not turn to violence. But the continuing repression of Balochis forced him to join Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) in 2019.
Ehsan too had completed his Master’s Degree in Gender Studies from QAU, Islamabad. In addition, he also held a Master’s Degree in English Literature from Turbat University, Kech Balochistan and like Shahdad, he too was an assiduous student with no inclination towards violence. But after realising that Islamabad wasn’t interested in talking to Balochis and believed in use of brute force through the army to intimidate the poor people of Balochistan, Ehsan too joined the BLA. Though both may have been martyred, but with highly educated boys like Shahdad and Ehsan joining BLA, Pakistan army’s big fat lie that rebel groups are recruiting gullible youth by emotionally blackmailing them and luring dregs of society by inducements, has once again been exposed!
Tailpiece: Human Rights Watch World Report 2019 (Pakistan) states, “During counterterrorism operations, Pakistani security forces often are responsible for serious human rights violations including torture, enforced disappearances, detention without charge, and extrajudicial killings, according to Pakistan human rights defenders and defense lawyers. Counterterrorism laws also continue to be misused as an instrument of political coercion. Authorities do not allow independent monitoring of trials in military courts and many defendants are denied the right to a fair trial.”
So, a simple question to all those who do not approve of the path taken by Shahdad and Ehsan- under such hopeless conditions, what would you do?