In Balochistan, human rights violations have become the norm. The Pakistan state and its security agencies have habitually trampled on the human rights of the Baloch people in the name of security and territorial integrity. The Pakistan state has been extremely sensitive to all expressions of ethnic autonomy and resistance, and more so in the case of Baloch leaders championing their rights. They are often charged with treason, branded as terrorists, and killed in encounters or picked up by security forces at will only to be added to the ever-expanding list of missing persons. In many cases, their dead bodies are either found in a badly mutilated condition by the roadside or their skeletal remains are discovered in mass graves.
The most prominent case that Balochistan has seen in the last decade has been that of missing persons. A man named Mama Qadeer Baloch whose son Jaleel Reiki went missing in 2010 started a rigorous campaign for missing persons against the state of Pakistan. Reiki was the information secretary of the Baloch Republican Party and the BRP is headed by Brahumdagh Khan Bugti. Baloch Republican Party harbours a fierce sense of separation from Pakistan. After this incident, Mama Qadeer tried several methods to highlight the case of missing persons, in which help from intelligence units of neighbouring countries was also involved. Hate speech was at its peak in his speeches against the state and he highlighted enforced disappearances of the Baloch people by accusing state organs.
Today the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) claims disappearance of some 18000 Baloch people from different walks of life and 1000 of them have been extra-judicially killed although authorities are in denial.
In recent months, going by the reports in social media and online portals run by the Baloch diaspora, there has been a spike in military operations in Baloch areas like Kech, Panjgur, and Awaran districts. These areas were reportedly shelled by helicopter gunships and massive raids were carried out afterwards. This is all happening amidst the COVID-19 lockdown. The Baloch have never felt safe inside Balochistan and now they do not feel safe even outside Pakistan.
Cases of Missing persons
The case of the disappearance of Rashid Hussain Baloch from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in December 2018, and the recent discovery of the dead body of Sajid Hussain Baloch in Sweden after he went missing in March 2020, only serves to demonstrate that the Baloch rights activists are being trailed even when they have quit Pakistan and are meeting the same fate as their ethnic cousins back home. According to Baloch forums worldwide, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are extending their influence and operations even in distant shores, especially in countries where the Baloch diaspora is actively propounding the case of Baloch marginalisation in Pakistan.
In the case of Rashid Hussain Baloch, he fled Balochistan after his close relatives were killed by the Pakistan security forces. His cousin, Abdul Majeed, was abducted on October 18, 2010, and his bullet-ridden dead body was found six days later. Two years later, Rashid’s uncle and Majeed’s father, Muhammad Ramzan, was shot dead on February 2, 2012. Rashid had been working in UAE since 2017. While he was travelling to Sharjah in December 2018, his car was intercepted and he was arrested reportedly by the UAE intelligence agencies, and ever since he has gone missing. The online media run by Baloch activists allege that he was handed over to the Pakistani agencies.
Sajid Hussain Baloch had fled Balochistan in September 2012 after he was targeted by the Pakistani establishment for investigating disappearances of the Baloch people. According to reports, some unknown persons broke into his house in Quetta and decamped with his laptop. After passing through different countries to save his life, fate brought Sajid to Sweden in 2018. He was granted asylum in 2019. He ran an online newspaper, ‘Balochistan Times’, which sought to raise awareness about Baloch sufferings and lend a voice to the voiceless. On March 2, his body was found. Observers suspect that he may be a victim of targeted killing as many activists and bloggers of Pakistani origins in Europe claim to be “targeted for speaking up against human rights violations in Pakistan”.
On the Eid-ul-Fitr day this year, instead of celebrating and feasting, relatives of Baloch missing persons chose to assemble outside Quetta press club and stage a hunger strike. They demanded the early return of those missing so that it could be a happy occasion for them to celebrate. The sad case of missing persons has been going on for decades now. This is all happening amidst the COVID-19 lockdown. In April alone, in the military raids, 16 Baloch were killed and as many as 73 people were picked up by the Pakistani forces, including students, women, children and infants. However, 28 people were later released.
The world at large has turned a blind eye to the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Pak army.
The Pakistan military’s practice of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention in illegally established military and paramilitary cantonments in and around Balochistan, and innovative methods of torture and torture-killing has continued unabated. Baloch activists, innocent women, children, students, journalists, researchers, and social workers have been put to death indiscriminately. While the world is busy fighting its war on terror in the region, the state terror unleashed on the Baloch people has largely gone unnoticed. There has also been a proliferation of state-sponsored radical outfits in Balochistan. They operate with impunity and function as de facto para-military arms of the state. The Quetta Shura of the Taliban was also allowed to have its base in Balochistan where it continued to prosper with the active connivance of the Pakistan military. Pakistan’s agencies have unleashed radical Islamist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other non-state actors and collaborators on the Baloch population in their bid to Islamise them. The Baloch people are known to be temperamentally secular and tolerant in their approach to religion.
Balochistan provides an apt example of how the Pakistan state has failed to accommodate the socio-cultural, political, and economic aspirations and grievances of the Baloch people, which have led to the present state of affairs. The coercive kill-and-dump policy of the army has only resulted in killings and disappearance of hundreds of innocent Baloch people, hardened nationalist sentiment among the people and steeled their nerves to continue with a popular movement that has become a thorn in the flesh of the Pakistan state.
Nevertheless, the movement of the Baloch people to safeguard their rights is likely to continue because of the strong undercurrent of popular disaffection in the province against the Pakistan state, and the sustained enthusiasm of the people to fight for their freedom, autonomy and their rights.
Calling Balochistan, a land of missing souls will truly justify it because every other person in Balochistan is missing or will go missing soon.
Not just the 8th of June but every day is a missing person day in Balochistan because every day hundreds of Baloch persons are disappearing.
08 June 20/Monday Written By: Saima Ibrahim