Amidst a gathering at Karachi’s The Second Floor (T2F) on Friday, Ali Dayan Hassan, the Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch, described Balochistan as a province which was on the verge of an ethnic meltdown.
Hassan dwelled upon issues which plagued Balochistan, reasons that have fueled human rights abuse in the province and its potential solutions. There was never a phase of stable relationship between the state and Balochistan, said Hassan, but the killing of Nawab Akber Bugti in 2006 sparked a new wave of violence. It was around that time that Hassan, under the wing of the Human Rights Watch, undertook the mission of documenting human rights violations in the region.
Narrating his personal experience in Sui, Dera Bugti, where he was working with locals, Hassan spoke about the humiliating attitude of government officials towards a Baloch man he was working with. “It was clear to me why the Baloch man hated the Pakistani state and military – as there was only so much ritual humiliation that a human being could put up with,” he said.
One of the biggest problems of working in the province, according to Hassan, was the constant interference of intelligence agencies, which escalated the risk for the sources. The inconsistent numbers for missing people further added to the problem. While Baloch nationalists claimed that approximately 6,000-10,000 people had gone missing, Interior Minister Rehman Malik stated that 1,100 people were missing in 2008. Strangely, the number quoted by Malik now has been reduced to 45.
Hassan admits that a handful of people have been returned due to the Supreme Court’s pressure, but there has always been the understanding that returned people are under constant threat. The whole idea that the judicial system is doing something meaningful to bring about a change in Balochistan is a sham, said Hassan. Unless military or intelligence officials are held accountable for the disappearances or targeted killing, these abuses cannot end, he added.
Explaining the provincial dynamics of Balochistan, Hassan stated that the conflict in Balochistan was not merely limited to one between the state and the Baloch people like it was three years ago. The Baloch people have now started targeting non-Baloch settlers, especially education personnel. Furthermore, the Taliban have begun targeting minorities like the Hazara in alliance with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
“Everyone lives in a perpetual state of fear, regardless of ethnicity. People in these situations become trigger happy, and when they hold a gun, they use it,” said Hassan.
Speaking about his testimony for a US Congressional hearing in February that demanded right to self-determination for Baloch people, he said that it was necessary to lobby international attention towards the province’s issue. Once the US got involved, everyone started talking about Balochistan suddenly, which was quite welcome.
Criticising the media, Hassan said the coverage of Balochistan had been “lazy, unethical and incompetent”. He cited the brutal murder of Akber Bugti’s granddaughter in Karachi earlier in the year, and the minimal media attention it received as an example of the media’s negligence towards certain issues
He said that the only way of solving the Balochistan crisis was to get sparring parties to agree to a ceasefire. He emphasised that the stakeholders of the province’s conflict did not include the government, but it was a battle between the military and Baloch nationalists. The need for collective pressure on the army and intelligence officials to stop killing, torturing and disappearing Baloch people as a confidence-building measure has never been more urgent, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2012.