Over the last few months, we have had a series of reports coming in from human rights watchdog bodies on the appalling situation in Balochistan. But the latest assessment of the events taking place in the province, from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), perhaps makes the most terrifying reading of all. The ominously-titled investigative study, “We can torture, kill or keep you for years”, describes just this process and produces further evidence that state intelligence agencies, backed by the Frontier Constabulary, are responsible for the enforced disappearances that continue across the province. The targets are Baloch nationalists, locked in a struggle for autonomy. Their fate, after they are ‘picked up’, is largely unknown, but based on its interviews with some 100 people in the province, HRW believes many suffer extra-judicial killings. Others are beaten and tortured for indefinite periods in camps.
This horrific picture of what is taking place in Balochistan is made still scarier by the fact that we simply do not know how many people have vanished in this fashion. In 2008, Interior Minister Rehman Malik put the number at 1,100. Early this year, Balochistan Home Minister Zafarullah Zehri said it stood at a mere 55. Does no one actually know, or is this a cover-up? The shifting sands of Balochistan hide far too many secrets. But HRW has uncovered 180 bodies across the province and this alone gives some idea of the scale of abuse.
What is perhaps most disturbing of all is that the government appears to have failed to do anything at all to tackle the situation. Indeed, it has worsened over the last three years, as both the federal and provincial set-ups sit back apparently helpless. Court observations which note the gravity of disappearances have been ignored. Victims are often too frightened to complain. In the rest of the country, concern over what is happening in our largest province is limited and it seems there is simply no one willing to come to the aid of a people who have been subjected to year after year of brutality.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2011.