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Information black hole

Published Aug 24, 2013 08:30am


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MEDIA coverage on Balochistan continues to diminish or is suppressed even as the human rights crisis deepens and violence expands in the province. Nothing of the socio-economic plight of the Baloch is being reported or analysed because Islamabad has successfully turned Balochistan into a black hole where retrieving news or information is concerned.

Fewer news stories appear, largely because Islamabad refuses to permit access to seasoned journalists and human rights reporters. Relief workers have been terrified into silence.

In recent months reports of the suspension of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and then the wrap-up of its mission in conflict-ridden Balochistan didn’t generate much debate in the media. The ICRC’s departure from the province will adversely effect whatever little — if anything at all — remains of human rights in the province.

Indeed, the abduction of UNHCR’s John Solecki, and later the kidnapping and killing of an ICRC worker Khalil Dale were gruesome acts. These high-profile incidents led to an exodus of the already dwindling number of humanitarian workers.

Subsequently, the Solecki incident generated waves of ‘kill and dump’ actions, which resulted in the death of many senior and mid-career Baloch activists. And now there are fears that the ICRC’s wholesale departure from Balochistan will further encourage aggressive action against dissident Baloch activists.

The ICRC was perhaps the only international organisation capable of monitoring rights and demanding some serious answers from the Pakistan government regarding the abuse of local and international laws concerning the treatment of dissidents.

It had turbulent relations with the government. There were tensions on issues such as disappearances, kill and dump incidents, torture and harassment of political activists including journalists. In 2011, the ICRC, whose responsibilities include monitoring violations of international humanitarian law in conflict-hit regions, was disallowed access to prisoners in Balochistan to see if there was implementation of the provisos of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, covering the treatment of people in conflict zones.

The ICRC raised its concerns and made it clear that the government was not allowing it access to scores of prisoners arrested on charges of militancy and terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Balochistan. According to the ICRC, its last visit to Balochistan prisons was in July 2008.

In a war-like situation, where conflicting parties rarely trust each other, local and international NGOs, especially the reputable and experienced ones, can act as mediators to help alleviate or solve problems of a humanitarian nature.

But in the last decade hardly any well-known organisation, social activist or journalist has been allowed to visit and freely report on the conflict in the region.

In 2010, during the devastating floods, the National Disaster Management Authority did not allow international donor agencies, aid organisations and NGOs to visit and directly assist the flood-affected people of the province.

In 2006, the Unicef country chief was harassed because an internal assessment report on the plight of the Baloch internally displaced persons (IDPs) was leaked to the media. According to the report, the IDPs, mostly women and children were living in makeshift camps without adequate shelter in Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Quetta, Sibi and Bolan districts.

The Unicef report said that 28pc of five-year-olds were acutely malnourished, and more than 6pc were in a state of “severe acute malnourishment”, with their survival dependent on receiving immediate medical attention. Over 80pc of deaths among those surveyed were those of children under five.

Since 2001 several journalists have been killed along with allegedly hundreds of motivated political activists seen as ‘would-be rebels’ by the perpetrators. Senior and vocal politicians are forced to live in exile. Hardly anyone is left to fearlessly speak out on the appalling conditions in the region.

This has helped suppress data and reports about Talibanisation, presence of drug cartels, corruption and human rights issues such as disappearances, killings, displacement.

The kidnapping of local NGO workers, doctors and lawyers has aggravated the situation, with many political observers of the view that this will lead the human rights crises to escalate. In Balochistan, the resolution of the issue of ‘enforced disappearances’ — involving the clandestine workings of security forces — has been demanded for years by human rights groups.

Meanwhile, the Nawaz Sharif government lacks a courageous and clear policy on Balochistan. The security forces are the prime beneficiary of the long-standing conflict. Security checkposts in Balochistan’s north, south and western regions generate millions of rupees. And any political solution to the conflict would minimise the role of the security forces.

Bodies such as the ICRC must be protected and encouraged to work in areas relating to humanitarian needs and given access to detainees and detention centres to monitor the treatment of prisoners.

The situation in Balochistan needs a political, mature and daring solution such as a comprehensive peace agreement with the real stakeholders to gradually end the conflict. This could be achieved through sincere efforts on the part of the government and by engaging expert mediators and guarantors.

The deal must address issues such as the cessation of hostilities, the restructuring of an ethnically imbalanced security structure, demilitarisation of allegedly state-backed militias, national and provincial power-sharing, the integration of armed groups into a newly structured indigenous security system and rewriting, with the consent of the Baloch people, all agreements concerned with Balochistan’s national wealth and resources.

Something similar to a Marshall plan is needed for the socio-economic development of the Baloch people as are measures to encourage the flow of humanitarian aid to the region.

The writer is a former senator from Balochistan.

Twitter: @Senator_Baloch


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (4) Closed

Sima Aug 24, 2013 03:25pm

Mr. Baloch has been instrumental in dwelling the attention towards lurking humanitarian crisis in Balochistan for which he deserves much applause. But of late i have noticed that the information he provides is specious and facts are otherwise. The article purports to blame Pakistan Government/ secret agencies for occurrence of ignoble incidents of abduction and subsequent killing of international activists in Balochistan. While he failed to mention that the responsibility of abduction of Mr. John Solecki was claimed by a Baloch Militant Group and a few said that the release was brought about through the three Baloch leaders, later killed in Turbat next year. Similarly, Mr. Dr. Khalil Dale, was abducted and killed by another Militant Organizaiton. It is because of the threat that the ICRC decided to quit Balochistan as the former refused to nurse the Baloch rebels injured in clashed with security forces. Besides, there was an article also in one of the newspapers after the death of the Dr. Khalil, in which it was mentioned that the Head of the ICRC sub-delegation had admitted to the fact that the Pakistan Government had informed them about the threat and offered the deployment of Police which was denied as they were not allowed to keep any armed man around their offices, houses or persons. Moreover, the Baloch nationalist militant organizations have publicly threatened the International Humanitarian Organisations, even the UN, through newspapers and there have been many articles on that. I request Mr. Sanaullah Baloch to comment on the threats issued to UN and other International organizations through newspapers. If the actions are judged on the principle of "Actions Speak Louder than Words", is Mr. Baloch not mistaken in blaming Pak Secret Agencies??

Chandio Aug 25, 2013 12:00am

Very well written - mr Baloch is right - Islamabad's policy towards Balochistan is discriminatory and a systemic policy is imposed to keep Balochistan under extreme control.

Muhammad Aug 25, 2013 12:23am

These concerns are genuine, but we need to understand that these international organizations follow the agendas of their sponsors. We know these sponsors, who also support the Baloch activists through their ousted Baloch leadership. We need not to be so passionate for Baloch activists and their leadership, who are acting against Pakistan's solidarity. I would also like to add that Balochistan is the most backward region of Pakistan, but none can be blamed for its backwardness, but the Baloch leadership, because theses are the people, who had been ruling Balochistan for centuries.

Sana Aug 25, 2013 09:06pm

@Sima: Hw tweets incite hatred against Punjabi's totally unable to understand why Dawn publishes such writings based on wrong facts and narrations based on hatred? between he is not a senator...