Human rights violations in Balochistan
- Human rights violations in the Balochistan province of Pakistan have drawn concern and criticism in the international community,being described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as having reached epidemic proportions. The violations have taken place during the ongoing Balochistan conflict between Baloch nationalists and the Government of Pakistan over the rule of Balochistan, the largest province by land area of modern-day Pakistan.
Brad Adams the director of the Asia branch of HRW has said that the Pakistani government has not done enough to stop the violence, which include torture, enforced disappearances of those suspected of either terrorism or opposing the military, ill treatment of those suspected of criminal activity, and extrajudicial killings. Marc Tarabella, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN), has called reports of the human rights situation “alarming” and stated that the “main victims” of the violence are Balochistanis who “are being systematically targeted by paramilitary groups, allegedly sponsored by the Pakistani authorities.”
- Violations have a fairly low profile in Pakistan. According to Declan Walsh in The Guardian newspaper, “newspaper reports” in Pakistan about civilian killings in Balochistan are “buried quietly on the inside pages, cloaked in euphemisms or, quite often, not published at all”. Journalist Ahmed Rashid writes that “so many journalists have been killed in Balochistan” that “journalists are too scared” to cover the issue.
- Before joining Pakistan, Balochistan consisted of four princely states: Makran, Las Bela, Kharan, and Kalat. Three of these, Makran, Las Bela, and Kharan willingly joined Pakistan in 1947 during the dissolution of the British Indian Empire. However, Kalat, led by the Khan of Kalat, Ahmed Yaar Khan, chose independence as this was one of the options given to all of the princely states by Clement Attlee at the time. In April 1948, however, Pakistan deployed armed forces to Kalat, and the Khan was forced to accede to Pakistan. The Khan’s brother Prince Kareem Khan declared independence and fled to Afghanistan to seek aid and begin an armed struggle that failed. By June 1948, Baluchistan in whole became a region of Pakistan.
There were a further three insurgencies in the region after 1948: 1958–1959, 1962–1963 and 1973–1977, and a fifth nationalistic movement began in 2002. The 1958–1959 conflict was caused by the imposition of the One Unit plan which had been implemented in 1955. This led to further resistance, and by 1957 Nauroz Khan announced his intention to secede; Pakistan declared martial law one day later. Pakistan bombed villages and deployed tanks with support from artillery. Nauroz was arrested and died while in prison, his family members were hanged for treason. According to Dan Slater, pro independence feelings in East Pakistan and Balochistan increased in parity with continuing military intervention in the political arena.
- According to journalist Ahmed Rashid writing in 2014, estimates of the number of disappeared in Balochistan “are between hundreds and several thousand.” International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons claims that 18,000 Baloch were missing by 2014, of whom more than 2,000 were killed.
According to an 8 December 2005 statement, by the then Pakistani interior minister Aftab Sherpao, an estimated 4000 people from Balochistan in the custody of the authorities having been detained in the province between 2002–2005. Of this number only 200 were taken to court and the rest were being held incommunicado according to author Manan Dwivedi writing in 2009.
However, in early 2011 The Guardian newspaper reported that “several human rights groups, including Amnesty International” had documents “more than 100 bodies” found dumped in Balochistan, many “mutilated corpses bearing the signs of torture” – “lawyers, students, taxi drivers, farm workers.” According to EU MP Marc Tarabella, based on collated newspaper reports, the number of those “killed after abduction … exceed 2000”. According to Ashraf Sherjan, president of the Germany Chapter of the Baloch Republican Party, “families of enforced-disappeared Balochs” report that between 1999 and 2015, “more than 20,000 Balochs have disappeared”.
- On June 3, 2012, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani directed Balochistan’s chief minister to take special measures to trace the missing persons.
Military and paramilitary abuses:
- The Frontier Corps, the anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and other groups have been accused of “a decade-long campaign” of “pick up and dump” in which “Baloch nationalists, militants or even innocent bystanders are picked up, disappeared, tortured, mutilated and then killed”. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has been accused of massive human rights abuses in Balochistan by Human Rights Watch, with the enforced disappearance of hundreds of nationalists and activists. In 2008 alone, an estimated 1102 people were disappeared from the region. There have also been reports of torture. An increasing number of bodies are being found on roadsides having been shot in the head. In July 2011, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a report on illegal disappearances in Balochistan which identified ISI and Frontier Corps as the perpetrators. According to journalist Malik Siraj Akbar, as of May 2015, “dozens of people are losing their lives every day” in “extra judicial killings committed by the Pakistani security forces” in the province of Balochistan.
In 2012 statement to the Supreme Court, the Pakistani government denied allegations of the use of secret operations, or death squads in Balochistan. According to Major General Obaid Ullah Khan Niazi, commander of the 46,000 paramilitary Frontier Corps stationed in Balochistan, militants impersonating his soldiers are killing civilians. “Militants are using FC uniforms to kidnap people and malign our good name.” However, Balochistan’s former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Jan Mengal, in a statement to the Supreme Court, claimed the current civil disturbances in Balochistan were a direct result of enforced disappearances.
Religious persecution of minorities:
- According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Al Jazeera, there has been a surge in religious extremism in Balochistan, with banned terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Pakistani Taliban targeting Hindus, Shias (including Hazaras) and Zikris, resulting in the migration of over 210,000 Shias, Zikris, and Hindus from Baluchistan to other parts of Pakistan. A further 90,000 ethnic Punjabis have also fled due to campaigns against Punjabis by Balochi militants.
- In 2005, 32 Hindus were killed by firing from the government side near Nawab Akbar Bugti’s residence during bloody clashes between Bugti tribesmen and paramilitary forces. The firing left the Hindu residential locality near Bugti’s residence badly hit.
- Shia Muslims of various ethnic backgrounds make up at least 20% of the total population of Pakistan. The Hazara ethnic minority has been facing discrimination in Balochistan Province for a long time, and violence perpetrated against the community has risen sharply in recent years. Since the year 2000, over 2000 Shia Hazara community members, including many women and children, have been killed or injured in Quetta Most of them have been the victims of terrorist attacks by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which is a Sunni Muslim militant organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Repression against the Shi’ite Muslims began in 1998 with the assassination of Gen Musa Khan’s son Hassan Musa in Karachi, and worsened in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks and the expulsion of the Taliban from Afghanistan.
Many hundreds of Shia Muslims have been killed in northern areas of Pakistan such as Gilgit, Baltistan, Parachinar and Chelas. In 2002, 12 Shia police cadets were gunned down in Quetta. In 2003, 53 people died and 150 were critically injured in a suicide attack on the main Shia Friday mosque in Quetta. On March 2, 2004, at least 42 persons were killed and more than 100 wounded when a procession of Shia Muslims was attacked by Sunni extremists at Liaquat Bazaar in Quetta. On October 7, 2004, a car bomb killed 40 members of an extremist Sunni organization in Multan. 300 people died during 2006. On December 28, 2009, as many as 40 Shias were killed in an apparent suicide bombing in Karachi. The bomber attacked a Shia procession which was held to mark Ashura.
Many youth from the Hazara community have had to flee to Europe and Australia, often illegally, in order to escape the oppression.
- Baloch insurgent movements have also been accused of human rights abuses in Balochistan, including targeted killings of ethnic non-Baloch civilians. This has caused an economic brain drain in the province. According to the Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani, “a large number of professors, teachers, engineers, barbers and masons are leaving the province for fear of attacks. This inhuman act will push the Baloch nation at least one century back. The Baloch nation will never forgive whoever is involved in target killings.” Raisani noted that these immigrant settlers had been living in Balochistan for centuries and called their targeting by Baloch insurgents “a crime against humanity”.
Journalists, teachers, students, and human rights defenders have been targeted in Balochistan according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.The U.S. Department of State estimates that in 2012 at least 690 civilians were victims of violence in Balochistan. A report from the Interior Ministry in 2012 stated that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Balochistan, Baloch Musalla Difa Tanzeem, and the Baloch Liberation Army were involved in violent disturbances. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that these groups and others killed 2,050 innocent persons and injured another 3,822 in 2012.
- The US government has expressed alarm at the reports of thousands Baloch separatists and Taliban insurgents disappearing into the hands of Pakistan’s security forces and possibly being tortured or killed. A 2010 State Department report said that the Pakistan government made “limited progress” in advancing human rights. Member of the European Parliament Marc Tarabella, in an article in The Parliament Magazine in 2015, wrote, “The main victims of this violence are the people of Balochistan who are being systematically targeted by paramilitary groups, allegedly sponsored by the Pakistani authorities. Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances are the most common practices”.
During an all-party meeting in Delhi, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said that Pakistan “shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Baluchistan.” Minister of State for External Affairs M. J. Akbar, during a speech at New York City, said, “Nations created in the name of faith supremacy are coming apart. That is why Bangladesh happened in 1971 and Balochistan is simmering now.” Modi’s remarks came during the unrest in Indian Kashmir, a territory disputed between both countries, where Pakistan condemned the alleged state human rights violations. Bangladesh’s information minister Hasanul Haq Inu, during a visit to India, said that Balochistan is burdened by Pakistan’s military establishment. He said, “Pakistan has a very bad track record as far as addressing aspiration of nationalities is concerned. They learnt nothing from the defeat of 1971 and continued to practice the same policy of repression and are now targeting the Baloch nationalists.” Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, also interviewed by the press while in India, appreciated Modi for his comments on Balochistan, and said that, “In Balochistan there is extreme suffering at the hands of extremists promoted by state structures in Pakistan. Therefore the people’s concerns need to be addressed and aired.” Pakistan’s foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz said Modi’s statement was “self-incriminating”, vindicating Pakistani accusations of Indian intelligence involvement in Balochistan’s insurgency, and called it an attempt to divert attention from the Kashmir violence.President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, speaking at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said, “There is war in Pakistan which media doesn’t speak about, there are 207,000 Pak forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. This violence needs coverage and understanding and needs to be stopped.” In the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, India raised the issue of human rights violations in Baluchistan, saying that “the people of Balochistan, amongst other provinces, have been waging for decades a bitter and brave struggle against their daily abuse and torture.”
- A post published by the Deutsche Welle argued the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would further exploit the Sindh and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan as the trade routes would pass deep through the two provinces until the port city of Gawadar, but most of the profits going to the federal government in Punjab and to China, which would incite further internal conflicts in Pakistan. As such, much domestic political opposition in Pakistan has been directed against the China-Pakistan trade corridor. For its part, the Pakistani military has condemned the opposition and resistance of provincial minorities as “terrorism”; vowing to eliminate any kind of resistance, particularly militancy, by the use of force.