Contrary to popular belief, extreme deprivation is not all that the people of Balochistan are being subjected to. Discrimination, insecurity and human rights abuses are the order of the day in the largely overlooked province.
Recent months have seen an increase in the cases of alleged disappearances and unlawful killings of the Baloch.
The involvement of security agencies in these abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan is brought to light in the explosive new report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York based advocacy group.
It details cases of human rights abuses, violations of international and domestic laws and state-sponsored brutality that has claimed victims as young as 12 years old.
The 132-page report titled ‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’ was released on Thursday. It documents 49 cases of enforced disappearances, 36 of which originated in 2009-2010.
The report implicates the Military Intelligence (MI) and Frontier Corps (FC) as well as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) for being involved in enforced disappearances.
According to the report, 16 cases of abduction were carried out by, in the presence of, or with the assistance of FC personnel. The majority of disappearances documented by the HRW were in Quetta as well as Tump, Mustung and Thali.
A majority of the victims were targeted because of tribal affiliations or their involvement with Baloch nationalist movements and political parties.
One example is of 25-year-old Rahim [not his real name], who was arrested with Dr Naseem Baloch and Ilyas Karim on May 25, 2010 by the FC. “I explained that I was a farmer in Awaran and they also asked about my family, and about Dr Naseem and Ilyas. When I told them that they were my friends, they would scream, ‘You are lying to us! Tell us what Naseem is doing. Why is he involved in separatism?’”
The HRW report details the abductors’ methods in gruesome detail. Men are picked up from vehicles and from university campuses, homes or places of work in broad daylight which the HRW said highlights “the impunity with which Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies operate in Balochistan”.
The HRW documented 10 cases in which “security forces beat the victims during the arrest and forcibly dragged them into their vehicles, often handcuffed and blindfolded”. The victims are taken to secret detention centres such as the Kuli camp at a military base in Quetta.Torture practices are widespread, including “prolonged beatings, often with sticks or leather belts, hanging the detainees upside down, and food and sleep deprivation”. Baloch Republican Party leader Bashir Azeem, who was abducted three times, said he was beaten by a leather strap. “They hung me upside down and kept asking who was financing us, and where the militants were. They pushed pins under my nails, put a chair on my back and sat on it, and put me in a room for 48 hours where I could just stand.”
There are limited options for victims’ families, as the police often refuse to register complaints. According to the HRW, the police told the families that they had no powers to investigate the disappearances allegedly committed by intelligence agencies or FC personnel.
There are also fears that those abducted have been extra-judicially killed, as evidenced by the number of bodies found with torture marks. More than 70 bodies have been discovered since July 2010. According to Azeem, his captors used to say, “Even if the president or chief justice tell us to release you, we won’t. We can torture you, or kill you, or keep you for years at our will. It is only the army chief and the ISI chief that we obey.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.
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