HRCP for talks with Baloch insurgents

Published October 14, 2013
The report says the HRCP is fully aware of the risks to Baloch nationalists by state actors, but it expects them to denounce violence.  — File Photo
The report says the HRCP is fully aware of the risks to Baloch nationalists by state actors, but it expects them to denounce violence. — File Photo

LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the government to hold immediate talks with Baloch insurgents, both within and outside the country, without any impunity to individuals among them causing grave human rights violations.

Launching a report of its fact-finding mission to Balochistan here on Sunday, the commission also urged the insurgents to respect the wishes of people supporting restoration of normalcy and political stability, stop attacks on innocent civilians and give peace a chance.

The report titled “Balochistan: Giving the people a chance” was launched at a news conference by former HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir. It was attended by the commission’s current Chairperson Zhora Yusuf, General Secretary I.A. Rehman and members of the mission Justice Malik Saeed Hassan and columnist Kamran Shafi.

Ms Jahangir said the situation in Balochistan could improve if the federal and provincial governments and law-enforcement agencies were of the same mind. Militancy could not be condoned in any form. The Baloch insurgents should hold negotiations as their elders had always waged political struggle (to secure their rights), she added.

She also said the Baloch must get their due rights. They want peace, but also their rights. She said the people of Balochistan had informed the mission about the presence of all kinds of local and foreign agencies, including Indian and Arab, but they were not influenced by these agencies. The people were rather struggling for the rights on their own, she said.

The mission went to Balochistan in June. Besides the overall human rights situation in the province, it reported the terrorist attack on a bus carrying students of a women’s university in Quetta and the bombing of Quaid-i-Azam’s residency in Ziarat. Members of the mission also held meetings with representatives of the political administration and a cross-section of the society amid hopes that the government has the authority, commitment, representative character and sincerity of purpose to deal with the problems the province has been facing for a long time.

The report says the HRCP is fully aware of the risks to Baloch nationalists by state actors, but it expects them to denounce violence. Weakening the democratic process will only strengthen the hands of undemocratic forces.

It urges Baloch insurgents to stop all kinds of violent activities at least for a brief period to give peace a chance. This will provide the new government an opportunity to confront “actors within the state” committing human rights violations on the pretext of furthering national security.

During this period, it says, the government could put up a monitoring mechanism to investigate human rights violations by state agents and punish perpetrators. This could lead to reciprocity for peace rather than reprisal where eventually ordinary people have to pay the price with their lives, liberty and their right to peaceful existence.

The HRCP calls upon security forces and intelligence agencies to operate within the ambit of the constitution and law. There are credible reports of continued serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance of people, arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings. These illegal actions will affect the democratic process and further alienate the people.

The report says the heads of Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies should warn their forces against committing human rights violations and in case of any breach of law the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

It says the biggest hurdle in normalisation of the situation in Balochistan is the abhorrent practice of enforced disappearance and dumping of bodies of the kidnapped people.

The HRCP calls for implementation of all recommendations of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances which had visited Pakistan in September last year.

The report recommends development and publicising of standard operating procedures (SOPs) on engagement of security forces and intelligence agencies operating in Balochistan. It seeks powers for the chief minister to write the annual confidential report on the performance of the chief of FC Balochistan and heads of all security agencies tasked with maintaining law and order in the province.

The report says major development projects in Balochistan should be completed at the earliest. It urges the chief minister to appoint a human rights adviser to improve the situation relating to people’s human rights. The adviser should be mandated to raise resources from international donors to make these rights a reality.

As Balochistan is undergoing a period of serious crises in terms of erosion of civil and political rights, the government must set up a provincial human rights commission to monitor and address violations of civil and political rights of its population.

A conventional inter-governmental human rights body will not be effective and, therefore, a cross-party parliamentary body should appoint a person of high integrity as the chief human rights commissioner. The commissioner with the approval of the chief minister should appoint commissioners for each district of Balochistan.

Policing system

The report says the policing system in Balochistan needs urgent reform. There is an urgent need to boost morale of the police force which has been for a number of reasons reluctant to go after militants and criminals. An academy should be built for training police personnel. Police should have the requisite support from cellphone companies and the National Database and Registration Authority to trace criminals. The civilian intelligence gathering capacity also needs to be enhanced.

The report says it is high time to do away with the distinction between ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas in Balochistan. The government should set up a committee of parliamentarians assisted by experts on the issue to gradually phase out the distinction. The government should make a blueprint whereby the FC can gradually be recalled from the province as active policing by it has been counter-productive and has created vested interests within the institution itself and deepened resentment among the people of the province.

The report urges all religious minority groups to set up a common platform to raise their voice and carry out other joint actions to protect the rights of minorities.

Flow of weapons

Efforts must be redoubled to check free flow of weapons in the province and make Quetta a weapons-free zone. Appropriate deterrents should be pursued to discourage gun running. The measures should be aimed at assuring the people that they don’t need to keep weapons for their safety.

Customs duty on trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan should be rationalised in order to legalise trade and discourage smuggling of goods.

The report urges the centre to support the Balochistan government in building communication networks within the province and connect it to other parts of the country.

It regrets that a large number of people displaced from the conflict-hit parts of Balochistan around a decade ago remain uprooted. A serious effort needs to be made for their return, particularly, to Dera Bugti.

The report emphasises that the recommendations made by the previous HRCP missions to Balochistan remained valid but largely unimplemented. It expresses the hope that the federal and provincial governments will implement these recommendations.

Mission’s findings

Despite threats from insurgents, people as well as the political parties that had boycotted the 2008 elections took part in the May 2013 polls, clearly giving the verdict on a manner in which they wanted to be governed. It was also a resounding vote for democracy and ending the bloodshed in the province.

The coalition government which emerged after the elections appeared to have considerable goodwill and support from the people that would be vital in extricating Balochistan out of the challenges that have long hounded it.

There was near unanimity among all interlocutors the HRCP met that formation of the new government was a sign of hope that the province’s problems would be addressed. The government formation was considered to be a positive step which could lead to an opportunity for ending grave human rights violations in the province.

However, the same interlocutors warned that they did not see many signs of a change in policy within security and intelligence agencies as the kill-and-dump policy continued.

The mission received conflicting reports that the pattern of terrorist attacks in the recent past indicated some operational coordination between sectarian militant groups and Baloch insurgents. It said that the HRCP was not in a position to verify the claim but demanded that such allegations must be taken seriously, investigated fully and, if any evidence of such collaboration was found, it must be made public.

Civilian supremacy

All groups and individuals as well as politicians welcomed the installation of the new democratic government and were of the opinion that this opportunity should not be lost and the new government should be strengthened so that it could face the multiple challenges in Balochistan.

The federal government was expected to fully back the provincial government in its developmental works and in extending its writ over the province as well as establishing civilian supremacy over military agencies.

Law and order in Balochistan remained dismal. Citizens were living in perpetual fear. They had little security of life and suffered indignity at the hands of security forces as a matter of routine.

Kidnapping for ransom remained unchecked and the citizens felt resigned to pay the money for recovery of abducted relatives. The abductors were almost never traced. Religious minorities were particularly vulnerable.

Civil society organisations had abandoned their work in the conflict-hit parts of the province. Women were particularly fearful and lived in perpetual intimidation by extremist forces. Sectarian militant groups operated with impunity and considered reprisals against the state their right if action was taken against them by the law enforcers for carrying out terrorist activities.

Answering a question about talks with the Taliban, Asma Jahangir said the HRCP could not oppose any strategy that brought peace to the country.

She said Baloch militants were demanding their rights but did not want to impose their ideology on the entire country. They have been receiving step-motherly treatment by the federal government whereas the religious militant wings have been the favourite child of the state. But still the HRCP could never condone militancy in any form.

She said justice was necessary with peace. Taliban and everybody else who committed a crime must be punished. She called for protecting minorities in Balochistan, especially Hindus who, she said, were being forced to migrate. The Hazaras too were under siege. The HRCP was against drone attacks but those who did not like them must also condemn persecution of minorities.

Ms Jahangir said those allowing activists of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi to use mobile phones in jails must refrain from doing so. Baloch people were facing indiscrimination by the FC and even those who wanted to become judges were asked prejudice-laced questions during the interviews, she added.

She said all law-enforcement and security agencies must be placed under the civilian control.

She praised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for allowing Baloch people to form their own government. This will improve things in the province.

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