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Balochistan: Black hole of enforced disappearance

Sunday, 25 November 2018 | Asghar Ali

Soon after the attack on the Chinese Consulate, its Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang claimed that Beijing would not hesitate in pursuing CPEC project and ‘Pakistan will ensure safety’. The hint is clear: Pakistan must ensure the Bloch people keep on disappearing

The November 23 attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi by Baloch separatists has brought to the global limelight the Baloch movement against the persecution by federal Pakistani authorities who have been depriving the region of its share of the province’s wealth and natural resources. Taking responsibility for the assault, the Balochistan Liberation Army has claimed it will continue fighting against the “Chinese occupation” spread through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The group had, on August 15, warned Chinese authorities against “exploitation of Balochistan’s mineral wealth and occupation of Baloch territory.” However, what surprises the global media is the intensity of the attack. Before this, Baloch separatists have been fighting a low-level insurgency in Pakistan for years.

The Baloch movement has a long history. After the Zia-ul-Haq regime when Pakistan moved to the democratic process, Baloch political dissidents tried to swim along the national political stream for almost fifteen years, albeit abortively. Now the Baloch people, particularly the new generation, are disenchanted with the false promise and betrayal by the federal authorities. As a result of increasing discontent, the idea of a free Balochistan has come out from its hibernation. This time, the demand for the Baloch nation has intensified.

On their part, the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies have strengthened its crackdown on Baloch separatists. Seen in this perspective is the claim of the Pakistani authorities that the disappeared Baloch are responsible for the attack on the Chinese Consulate. The counter-attack is two-pronged: The involuntarily disappeared Baloch who are either not found or their tortured bodies recovered from untrodden path have been declared convicts, and second, the accusation has shown the world the terror face of the separatists.

Since the start of the Baloch movement, the Pakistan authorities tried to nip the problem in the bud by kidnapping and killing Baloch separatists, who were declared missing of their own volition. The fact is that most of the missing persons are found dead and their mutilated bodies were recovered from across the region. Since 2006, the Pakistan Army and other law enforcement agencies in nexus with Islamic religious terrorist groups have ensured disappearance of thousands of Baloch political activists, social activists, students, journalists, lawyers, engineers, doctor and teachers. Mama Qadeer Baloch, the vice-president of The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a Balochistan-based human rights organisation which has been pursuing the case of the missing Baloch since 2009, claims that more than 40,000 Balochs have gone missing, thanks to Pakistani law enforcement agencies. Over 10,000 have been “killed” and their bullet-ridden mutilated bodies dumped in disserted areas.

Mama Qadeer led a 3,000-km long historical march from Quetta to Islamabad via Karachi in the memory of the disappeared Baloch in 2013. However, the Pakistan Government remained nonchalant. Recently Akhter Mengal, the president of Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal), claimed that from July 25 to October 30 this year, 235 Baloch people went missing, and mutilated bodies of 45 people were recovered. This has happened after the Imran Khan-led PTI came to power at the Centre.

Accordingly the Bi-annual report 2018: The state of Balochistan’s Human Rights by Baloch Human Rights Organisation, 485 cases of enforced disappearances and 144 cases of extra-judicial killings were reported between January 2018 and June 2018. Similarly Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s “THE BALOCH WHO IS NOT MISSING & OTHERS WHO ARE” report, published in 2013, came with a similar story: “The exact number of the involuntary disappearance of people is difficult to ascertain as many such cases are not reported to any Government and non-Government organisations. Some of the victim families do not have access to channel their protests, while others keep quiet out of the fear that publically airing their grievances could make the return of the missing persons difficult or impossible.”

In this regard Tullios Scovazzi and Gabriel Citroni remark that enforced disappearance is one of the most serious human rights violations. The right to safety, the right to protection under the law, the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s liberty, and the right to be subjected to torture and to other cruel inhuman degrading treatments have taken a hit. 

Further, Articles 1, 2 of the UN International Convention for The Protection of the All Persons from Enforced Disappearance respectively state, “No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance and no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance; and enforced disappearance is considered to be arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons and groups of persons acting with the authorisation, support and acquiescence of the state.”

Article 4 says, “Each state shall take necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law.” Similarly Pakistan’s Constitution of 1973 Article 10(2) states, “Every person who is arrested and detained in the custody shall be produced before a magistrate within twenty-four hours, and shall not be denied the right to consult or be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.”

However, the Pakistan military has been carrying out operations across Balochistan in order to crush the separatist organisations. Baloch political parties, Baloch National Movement (BNM) and Baloch Republican Party, have continuously blamed Pakistan forces for their involvement in human rights violations, such as enforced disappearances, burning of Baloch houses, looting livestock, and forcing them to flee their homes and live as internally displaced persons in Sindh and other parts of Balochistan. These political parties accuse the Pakistan Army of evicting hundreds from their houses in Baloch villages in order to bring its “exploitive” $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the area.

Mohammad Hanif, renowned journalist of BBC Service and author of “Red Bird”, says it is painful that even journalists are grilled when they enter the territory of Balochistan; they are treated as aliens in their own country.

As growing fiscal crisis has put Pakistan in a fix on how it will repay Chinese loans granted as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative, Beijing is feeling emboldened to exert more pressure on Pakistan to pave path for its partner to exploit natural resources in Balochistan.

Soon after the attack on the Chinese Consulate, its Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang claimed that Beijing would not hesitate in pursuing CPEC project and “Pakistan will ensure safety”. The hint is clear: Pakistan must ensure the Bloch people keep on disappearing.

(The writer is a Baloch national movement activist)


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