By Sanchita Bhattacharya*
On December 8, two Baloch men were ‘forcibly disappeared’ by Security Forces (SFs) in two separate incidents in Kech District. While Sohail was ‘forcibly disappeared’ from the Dazen area of Tump, Chakar went ‘missing’ after being arrested from his house during a raid by SFs in the Kohar area.
On November 22, four Baloch students were ‘forcibly disappeared’ around midnight during a house raid conducted by SFs in the Essa Nagri area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The ‘missing’ students were identified as Kambar Lal Baloch, Waheed Sakhi, Rahmatullah, and Murad Jan. The students were preparing for the entry test for the medical college in Quetta.
On October 26, a Baloch man, Allah Noor was reportedly detained by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan. CTD raided his house in Mashkay in Awaran District and took him away. His whereabouts remain unknown.
On October 24, law enforcement personnel summoned a Baloch youth, Umar, to the Rinduk Frontier Corps (FC) camp in Kharan District. He went ‘missing’ thereafter.
On October 24, two Baloch brothers, Yusuf Badini and Parvaiz Badini, were forcibly abducted by FC personnel in Kharan District.
On September 6, SFs raided a house in the Gireshg area of Khuzdar District and abducted six men. SFs moved the detainees to an unknown location and there is no subsequent information regarding their condition and whereabouts.
According to the latest data of the Government of Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance (COIOED), it has recorded a total of 2,060 missing person cases from Balochistan. Of these, 1,456 persons have returned home, 35 dead bodies have been located, 17 persons are in prisons, and two are at Internment Centres. 203 cases have been “closed due to not being cases of enforced disappearances, incomplete address, withdrawal by complainants, non-prosecution. etc.”
Scanning the data provided by COIOED on its website shows that, since 2000, at least 1,262 Baloch people have been ‘disappeared’, with the maximum number from Kech District-778; followed by Quetta-294; Awaran-223, Panjgur-95; Mustang-78; Khuzdar- 51; Nushki-48; and Hub-26. These numbers are, however, a stark underestimate, when compared with data extracted from news reports, as well as from non-government sources.
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Significantly, Pakistan’s Federal Government constituted the COIOED in March 2011. The Commission’s mandate was, among other things, to “trace the whereabouts of allegedly enforced disappeared persons” and “fix responsibility on individuals or organizations responsible.” The COIED was preceded by a three-member judicial commission on enforced disappearances, which was constituted in April 2010 and submitted its final report to the Government in January 2011. The report was not made public.
The Human Rights Council of Balochistan (HRCB) on December 7, released its report for November 2022, which documented the ‘disappearance’ of 35 persons in Balochistan during November 2022 alone. Of these, FC was responsible for the abduction of 31 persons, while the remaining four were abducted by unidentified gunmen. 13 persons were released after days of detention while the whereabouts of the remaining abductees is unknown. The report also noted that 42 Baloch persons were killed in November in extrajudicial killings. Of these, 22 were killed by SFs, 14 were targeted and killed, three including a woman were killed for honour, and two mutilated dead bodies were also found with no information about the agency responsible. No information was made available about the remaining one victim.
Meanwhile, on June 17, 2022, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah rightly asked the Deputy Attorney General during the hearing of a case of missing persons, why people were still being “picked up” and “What steps has the federal government taken and who is responsible?” During his remarks he ordered the government to investigate the cases of ‘missing’ people and said that it would be preferred if the chief executive of the country was present. Admonishing the Government, he observed, further, “You are proving that [forcibly] disappearing people has been the policy of the State since the days of General Musharraf. Someone is responsible for the period in which people go missing.”
The Freedom House Report of Pakistan, 2022, noted that the International Commission of Jurists, an international human rights organization, found the COIOED approach had enabled impunity by diverting attention away from the judicial process into an ad hoc process vulnerable to political interference. Also, it was mentioned in the report that the COIOED did not push for any disciplinary action against agencies known to be involved in enforced disappearances.
The untraced among the ‘disappeared’ Baloch are at risk of torture and death. Even if they are released, terrible physical and psychological scars endure. If they are killed, their family never recovers from their loss. ‘Forced disappearances’ are a tool of terror that strikes not just individuals or families, but the whole of Baloch society.
Significantly, the Khuzdar, Mastung, Awaran, Kech and Panjgur Districts are also notoriously associated with state-backed ‘Death Squads’ and their free use of violence against the Baloch. Sponsored and patronized by the Military Establishment in Pakistan, the ‘Death Squads’ act as a tool of repression against the Baloch quest for a separate political and ethnic identity. Other than Mastung, the remaining Districts lie to the extreme south of the province. Some of the infamous ‘leaders’ of the ‘Death Squads’ include: Zakaria M. Hassani, operating mainly in Khuzdar; Deen Mohammad in Awaran; Rashid Pathan, Sardar Aziz (along with his two sons Meeran Aziz and Shah Meer) and Mir Sameer Sabzal, in Kech; and Maqbool Shambezi in Panjgur.
Voice for Baloch Missing Persons [set up in 2009] has accused the state of operating these ‘Death Squads’ to abduct and kill suspected separatist sympathizers in the Province.
Moreover, a number of “fake encounters” have been reported in Balochistan where forces have killed missing persons, portraying them as insurgents and terrorists. The extrajudicial execution of ‘missing persons’ in staged encounters in Pakistan has a long history. In October, 2022, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed reservations concerning the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2022, which deals with widespread ‘enforced disappearances’ in the country. HRCP noted,
While the amendment acknowledges the crime of enforced disappearance and defines this as the ‘unlawful or illegal deprivation of liberty by an agent of the state’, it does not address the need for a new legal architecture extending civilian oversight to these very agents.
Despite the long-drawn saga of atrocity and violence, the people of Balochistan continue to raise their voices against such brutality. In one such recent incident, on November 8, 2022, a 26-day protest march of Baloch people culminated outside the Karachi Press Club, as 13 women and children suspectedly detained by Security Forces during the military operation in the Bolan area of Kachhi District in Balochistan were released a day earlier, on November 7. Protesting against this inhuman incident of detention and enforced disappearances of Baloch people, demonstrators described the entire region lying in southwestern Pakistan as ‘a torment camp’.
The people of Balochistan have been deprived of their basic dignity and right to life. The incidents of ‘enforced disappearances’ are a brutal and lawless exercise of power by agencies of the state, and no solution is visible in the foreseeable future. The Pakistani state continues with its harsh and repressive measures on the ground, and the common people face the brunt of its misdeeds.
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management