Sep 02, 2019

Balochistan: Hundreds of Baloch Rights Activists Detained, Tortured and Murdered as Part of the State's Kill and Dump Policy

According to various human rights watchdogs, hundreds of Baloch persons have been forcibly disappeared and killed by the Pakistani security forces as part of a state policy known as kill and dump. The situation has only aggravated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a collection of infrastructure projects to be built in Pakistan strongly opposed by the Baloch who view it as a repressive policy by the central government that will deplete Balochistan's natural resources, land, and property. Human rights observers have documented reports of widespread enforced disappearances, rape, harassment, and extra-judicial killings in what can be seen as a chilling crackdown on freedom of expression in the region and the integral right of the Baloch people to self-determination.

The article was originally published by The New Arab

Mehlab Baloch was nine-years-old when her father was taken. On June 28, 2009, Pakistani intelligence agents stormed Ornach Hospital and detained Deen Mohammad Baloch, who was working the night shift to serve local patients. Pakistan's intelligence agencies have never charged Deen Mohammad with a crime and deny that he was disappeared by state institutions.

"An FIR was not allowed," Mehlab Baloch says, referring to the First Information Report, the South Asian equivalent of an initial police report.

Deen Mohammad is not a unique case, an exception in Pakistan's human rights record. According to the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, 371 people have been disappeared and at least 158 have been killed by Pakistani security forces in the first six months of 2019 alone.

The human rights watchdog Amnesty International reports that since 2011, hundreds of Baloch people have been disappeared only to be killed by Pakistani security forces as part of a state policy known as kill and dump.

As of March 2019, Pakistan's Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, a state run agency, had over 2,000 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances.

Confidential documents leaked by Baloch political activists to The New Arab reveal that unreported cases of enforced disappearances exceed reported cases of abduction and extrajudicial killings.

These documents also reveal that Pakistani security forces regularly conduct operations on individual households, physically assault innocent women and children, and rely on extrajudicial death squads to subjugate Baloch civilians.

In March of 2018 alone, 20 military operations – thus far unreported – targeted civilian households and places of worship.

Anees Khaliq, a high school student in Panjgur, was abducted on March 2, 2018, allegedly by Interservice Intelligence (ISI) officials and a state-backed "death squad," revealing troubling allegations that Pakistan relies on paramilitary forces to subjugate civilians within its own territory.

Eyewitness testimony also lends credence to the allegation that Pakistan relies on extrajudicial death squads. Mama Qadeer, a Baloch activist, tells The New Arab, "Pakistan buys local Baloch people to harass, abduct, and kill Baloch activists who are fighting for independence or autonomy. This way they avoid blame."

Since 1947, the year in which Pakistan was created as an independent state, Islamabad has fought a number of insurgencies in Balochistan, a province where some groups have demanded independence, others autonomy, and some, a more equal share of resources in Pakistan.

Balochistan remains a goldmine for Pakistan with its vast mineral and natural gas fields. Yet despite this natural wealth, the province remains the poorest in the entire country.

The most recent insurgency began in 2004 but escalated after a Baloch woman was raped by a Pakistani army official in 2005. Though a coordinated insurgency was quashed by Pakistan's intelligence and military apparatus, social unrest continues in the province with Baloch separatists viewing Pakistan as an occupying force.

Creating a lost generation

"Our life is nothing [other] than traumatic. There has been no happiness. Sometimes... you remember that your dad is still missing," Mehlab Baloch tells The New Arab.

Though only nine-years-old when her father was taken, Mehlab has become a full time activist fighting for the release of men like her father who now constitute a lost generation in Pakistan, a collective of men and women who have simply disappeared into thin air with no official state record.

In October 2013, Baloch activist, Mama Qadeer Baloch, led men, women, and children on a 'Long March' from Quetta to Pakistan's coastal city, Karachi. A grieving father himself, Mama Qadeer lost his own son to abduction in 2009.

"My son was abducted on February 13, 2009. Men showed up in four cars and took him. He stayed in the ISI's custody for three years and in 2012, his body was returned with torture marks, with cigarette burns on his back," Qadeer tells The New Arab.

As expected, activists on the 'Long March' faced violence from both Pakistani civilians and state institutions such as the ISI and Military Intelligence (MI).

Speaking about the march, Mama Qadeer told The New Arab, "We were harassed and attacked by the Pakistani army, ISI, and death squads, but we persisted. In Punjab, we faced the most difficulty. We could not find a place to stay and people would not even serve us food. Those who helped us were threatened by the ISI."

The ISI also tried to run us over with trucks and though I survived, I lost two or three of my companions," he goes on to say.

Though the threat of violence was real, Mehlab Baloch continued to fight for her father.

"I used to look at other girls my age who would hold their dad's hand as they walked to school. Better than fear, I need to do something for my dad," Mehlab Baloch said.

In 2017, Mehlab Baloch, along with her sister Sammi who was one of the leaders of the 2013 'Long March,' went on a hunger strike at the Karachi Press Club, where they demanded the release of their father.

Since 2009, Mehlab Baloch has made extensive use of social media to advocate for her father. They have organised press conferences, protests, and pursued democratic channels to secure the release of her father. Nothing, however, has worked.

Mehlab herself has faced threats and violence from Pakistan's military apparatus. In August 2018, Pakistani military officers conducted a raid on Mehlab's home where they stole family belongings and burned items they did not want to confiscate. The military even followed her to her school, where they forbade her from taking her exams, supposedly as an intimidation tactic.

"We are slaves. We have nothing. But at the end of the day, we too are humans we deserve our human rights," Mehlab says.

The geopolitical game and its human cost

In 2015, China and Pakistan agreed on what became known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a collection of infrastructure projects to be built in Pakistan.

As of 2017, CPEC was valued at 62 billion US dollars, a major investment for Prime Minister Imran Khan's government.

Since China's involvement in the fragile South Asian country, a state-sponsored policy of disappearing Baloch people has only become worse.

Balochistan serves as an important territory in China's Belt-and-Road Initiative, a component of the larger economic corridor that ends with the Gwadar Port, also located in Balochistan.

By and large, the Baloch people remain staunchly opposed to CPEC, viewing it as yet another policy by the central government that will siphon Balochistan's natural resources, land, and property.

There is also an additional fear that the central government in Islamabad is attempting a demographic transformation of the province, much like India is accused of preparing to carry out in the Kashmir Valley.

For decades, the Baloch people have accused Islamabad of exploitative resource extraction, aimed at fulfilling consumer needs in urban centers such as Lahore and Islamabad.

Though Prime Minister Imran Khan has spoken about the need for more development in the troubled province, Baloch activists remain sceptical, viewing these projects as yet another policy designed to strip the Baloch from their territorial sovereignty and their resources.

Pakistan's escalation in enforced disappearances has not quelled concerns among the Baloch people.

"The Baloch have been forcibly removed from their homes so that the Chinese can build their highways. But no development has actually come to this province. It is all for the Punjabis, for the military state; they are the ones making the money," Mama Qadeer tells The New Arab.

"I don't know [if my father is still alive], but my heart doesn't accept that he's dead. I am alive with the hope that he still is," says Mehlab Baloch.

Nothing seems to be standing in the way of Pakistan new infrastructure projects. Pakistan will update its infrastructure and China, in addition to an unprecedented return on its investment, will entrench itself as an empire builder in South Asia.

What no one will stop to think about is what it took to achieve this: a state-sponsored policy, not of systematic genocide, but one in which the Baloch people simply disappeared.

Photo Courtesy The New Arab