Baloch abductions scorch Pakistan
14 November 2017
Days after being selected to the UN Human Rights Council on 16 October 2017, Pakistan suffered a huge embarrassment when its growing crimes against the Baloch, especially the phenomenon of “enforced disappearances”, blew up in its face. The dispute centres on Baloch inability to reconcile to the annexation of Kalat State (core of Balochistan) by Pakistan in 1948.
The current crisis was triggered by the abduction of close family members of two prominent leaders, Dr Allah Nazar (Baloch Liberation Front) and Ustad Aslam Baloch (Baloch Liberation Army) from Quetta on October 30. Nawaz Ata Baloch, information secretary of the Baloch Human Rights Organisation, was abducted the same day. Many more abductions of women and children occurred in the same week.
Sources said Allah Nazar’s wife Fazeela Baloch was in Quetta for treatment of a botched backbone operation after being injured during the bombardment of their village by Pakistani forces in 2012, in which 44 family members died. Three other women and three infants, including Fazeela’s daughter Popal Jan, were also abducted.
Baloch diaspora and human rights activists raised a hue and cry, forcing the regime to release Fazeela and her co-victims three days later (November 3). By then, a larger protest movement was on.
In London, taxis appeared outside Buckingham Palace with ‘Free Balochistan’ painted on both sides, a novel idea conceived by the World Baloch Organisation (WBO). Other vehicles moved around Parliament and London Eye in Central London, with posters saying, ‘Save Baloch Women & Children Campaign’. On 5 November, several Baloch organisations protested against the abduction of Baloch women at 10 Downing Street.
Caught unawares, an enraged Islamabad summoned the UK high commissioner to Pakistan, Thomas Drew, and insisted that such adverts “should not be allowed”, even as Pakistan’s high commissioner in London, Syed Ibne Abbas, urged the Foreign Office to ban the advertisements.
Susceptible to pleas from its protégé-nation, London obliged. Transport for London ordered the adverts to be removed for being “controversial and sensitive” and in violation of clause (h) of its advertising policy. The World Baloch Organisation retorted that most reasonable people would not regard the wording as controversial or sensitive and that clause (h) states that adverts promoting humanitarian-type causes will “not normally be disapproved”, even if controversial or sensitive. It launched phase-II of its campaign to internationalise the Balochistan crisis: billboards on London roads.
Pledging to appeal against the taxi advert ban, WBO activists say the cry for Free Balochistan is consistent with the principle of right to self-determination enshrined in the UN charter. They point out that Pakistan does not allow journalists, human rights monitors and aid agencies to enter Balochistan and witness the brutality of its rule; the adverts help to expose the crimes of the security forces. They add that the killings and forced disappearances are continuous, and the F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters supplied by Washington are being used to attack unarmed Baloch civilians.
The World Baloch Women Forum leader Naela Quadri Baloch said the detentions are part of an ongoing systematic “persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Baloch people”. The American Friends of Balochistan said, “We regret that enforced disappearances in Balochistan have not received the attention of the world community, further emboldening the Deep State of Pakistan to throw the Geneva conventions to the winds in Balochistan”.
Within Pakistan also, the authorities found themselves on the back foot. Senators of the combined opposition and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), an ally of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N, staged a walkout from the Senate to protest against the disappearance of Dr Allah Nazar’s wife and others. Chairman Raza Rabbani warned State Minister for Interior, Talal Chaudhry, “don’t say that they have not been picked up by the state”, and questioned how the State could violate Articles 4, 9, 10, 10A and 14 of the Constitution, which guarantee the rights of a citizen. Admitting that Fazeela and others were arrested, Chaudhry claimed it was because they tried to cross the border illegally.
What helped secure the speedy release of Fazeela Baloch and others is the fact that from Monday, November 13, Pakistan faces a UN review conference in Geneva, where it would have a hard time explaining the mysterious disappearance of its citizens. Islamabad’s unexpected gesture of permitting the wife of Indian detainee, Kulbhushan Jadhav, to meet him on humanitarian grounds also seems linked to this review.
Pakistan’s human rights record has been deteriorating since 2012 when it was last reviewed at the UN. In fact, in September 2016, its own Senate human rights committee met in Karachi and directed the authorities to address the issue of missing persons in Sindh (mostly internally displaced Baloch). But on revisiting Karachi in October 2017, the committee noted that dozens more had disappeared and not a single person had been charged or investigated for the crime.
On November 2, the Baloch Human Rights Organisation (BHRO) held a rally in Karachi to protest the abduction of a Baloch Human Rights activist, students, women, and children from Karachi and Quetta. Pointing out that previously the security forces abducted only men, the BHRO said that now women and children are being targetted. Some Pakistani human rights activists including Asad Bhutt, vice-chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Sindh, joined the rally.
It bears stating that BHRO information secretary Nawaz Atta Baloch and eight other students are still in captivity. Some kinsmen of BLA leader Aslam Baloch (two nephews, a cousin) are missing, though his sister and three youths were released on November 3.
A pertinent Baloch grievance relates to the plunder of its natural resources to enrich Punjab, while denying economic development to Balochistan, which lacks even potable drinking water. Activists allege that the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor has intensified ethnic cleansing of the Baloch to pave the way for a Chinese takeover of the region. The alleged discovery of a Pakistan-issued National Identity Card (90008-01000170-5) to a Chinese national has heightened anxieties in this regard.
Given the growing and disproportionate violence against the insurgents, the Baloch want the UN to set up a Commission of Inquiry to probe all cases of enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killings. Perhaps Islamabad can be persuaded to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, if only out of deference to its elevation to the prestigious UN Human Rights Council.
The Pioneer, 14 November 2017