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The face of impunity in Balochistan – I

Updated Apr 17, 2014 02:59pm

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This file photo shows a group of Levies personnel. - File Photo
This file photo shows a group of Levies personnel. - File Photo

TURBAT: Along a quiet stretch of Pasni Road, a few kilometres out of Turbat, the tortured body of 19-year-old Naseem Jan Mohammad was discovered a few days ago. “He had been missing for four days,” says a relative. “Two other people from the same village are still missing, and this is a village of only 50 houses.”

The recent abduction and subsequent grim outcome have exacerbated the fear that pervades the area. “I live and work here but I’m too afraid to even go to the market,” reveals an acquaintance of Naseem Jan.

This part of the highway, which could be described as bucolic if one didn’t know better, has a sordid history. It has served as the dumping ground for the bodies of many a Baloch – often merely teenagers – abducted from busy markets in broad daylight, while travelling along quiet country roads, even while asleep at home. Most bodies display signs of torture; many are mauled by wild animals by the time some shepherd stumbles across them.

Turbat is the headquarters of Kech district, which is in southern Balochistan’s Makran belt. Other districts in Makran include Pasni, Gwadar and Mand districts. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), there have been at least 292 enforced disappearances in Makran since 2004.

“The total is probably closer to 500 but we know of about 300 confirmed cases,” says Ghani Parwaz, the HRCP representative in Turbat. “Of these, nearly 100 had been found tortured and dumped, while 150 or so detainees have been released; at least 48 are still missing – 32 from Kech, nine from Gwadar, seven from Panjgur.” (Many more are killed in armed encounters.)

Time and again, residents of Turbat while talking to this correspondent alleged that the Frontier Corps (FC), elements from intelligence agencies and state-sponsored Baloch groups are responsible for the abductions.

They speak of the dread in which they live, not knowing who will be next. “Turbat is not a city for young men any longer,” says a resident.

Anyone with separatist sympathies, it seems, is fair game. Last December a well-known lawyer and social worker, 28-year-old Haider K.B., went missing. “He was picked up by the FC while on his way home from court. He has yet to be found, alive or dead,” says a friend. Bar associations in Turbat and even in Lahore have protested his disappearance, to no avail.

Captain Usman Ahmed, second-in-command of the FC in Turbat, vehemently denies the allegations. “The fact is that whenever we move in a convoy, we invariably come under attack from the Baloch insurgents, and we naturally have to retaliate. But we never barge into homes and pick up people.”

Kech district, particularly the areas lying north and east of Turbat, is one of the major flashpoints in the Baloch insurgency. The banned militant organisations, the Balochistan Liberation Front and Baloch Republican Army, have a significant presence here. So do the state’s security forces, in the form of the FC – known as Makran Scouts here which has checkposts all over the city.

Shocking case

Until a few years ago, those subjected to enforced disappearance were often released through the courts. That changed in April 2009 with a particularly shocking case that sparked protests in several cities. Three prominent Baloch nationalists – Lala Munir, Sher Mohammed Baloch and Ghulam Mohammed Baloch – were picked up from the office of their lawyer, Kachkol Ali, who was present at the time.

“Intelligence officials abducted them and the FC was deployed on the road outside,” says Mr Ali from Norway where he now lives in self-exile as a result of threats he has received, he says, from intelligence agencies.

(An acquaintance of Sher Mohammed Baloch remembers that the latter received a phone call in his presence that left him shaken. “When I asked Sher Mohammed who it was, he said it was someone from the FC threatening his life.”)

Three days later, the horribly decomposed bodies of the men were discovered just off Pasni Road. According to a witness, “When the police superintendent at the scene began to weep at the sight, I couldn’t control my tears either.”

Since then, no disappeared person from the area has been released through the courts.

Before the insurgency set Makran aflame, Turbat was a peaceful town of about 250,000. Residents recall with nostalgia the time when people would throng the main bazaar, sitting at roadside cafes until well after midnight. Now, darkness descends on the town centre at 8.30pm as everyone rushes home. Even the FC, whose trucks bulldoze their way through the streets during the day, retreats from its checkposts to the safety of its camp.

Parts of Turbat are considered “no-go” areas for the FC, areas such as Kahnay Pusht, where support for the insurgency is particularly strong. Wall chalkings in the narrow streets here are blatantly anti-state; some salute the “martyrs” of the conflict.

In parts of town where security forces can patrol more easily, one can see such graffiti daubed over with “Pakistan Zindabad”, etc. Every cemetery is home to at least some graves of militants; they are recognisable by the ‘free Balochistan’ flag draped over them. According to a resident, “Sometimes the flags are removed by the FC, but they reappear again.”

This cat-and-mouse game between the insurgents and the state often explodes into open violence. Armed encounters in the area have taken more than a dozen lives recently. About a month ago in Chahsar locality, in the midst of some date palm orchards, five young men were killed in an encounter with the FC late in the evening. They had reportedly been distributing separatist pamphlets when they were ambushed.

“He was late, and I heard the sound of gunfire, so I called his mobile,” says Mah Khatoon, mother of one of those killed. “When it was received by someone speaking Pashto, I knew.” (Most FC personnel stationed in Turbat are Pashto-speaking men.)

Vicious cycle

While several Turbat residents have no hesitation in saying that many of those killed, allegedly by security forces, are connected to the insurgency in some capacity or the other, they maintain that enforced disappearances, staged encounters, and the kill-and-dump policy are not only unjustifiable on moral or legal grounds, but that they further inflame the situation.

“They kill militants even if they choose to surrender,” says Ahmed Baloch. He narrates the story of a raid conducted on a house in Darmakol village in nearby Pidarak.

“Following an exchange of gunfire, the residents – the father who was a poet, two sons and two cousins – came out to surrender led by the women of the family. The FC killed four of the male members right there in front of the mother and sisters whom they kicked brutally as they tried to intervene. Then they picked up the 80-year-old father, shot him dead and dumped him elsewhere.”

According to Qadir Baloch, another local, “They don’t even spare children. In Kechwar a few days ago, they killed five 14- or 15-year-old boys in an encounter.”

One 17-year-old named Ayaz, who worked at a barber’s shop, was picked up three months ago on suspicion of sending provisions to insurgents. He is still missing.

The families of insurgents or those picked up on mere suspicion of harbouring separatist sympathies, or those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, virtually have no recourse to justice.

“The police and Levies, depending on who’s in charge of the area, won’t name the perpetrators in the FIRs of missing people,” says Mr Parwaz. “They say that to do so will put their jobs, their very lives in danger.”

At times the police/Levies won’t even file an FIR. Another social activist narrates a case of enforced disappearance in Nasirabad, about 20kms away, in which all the men of a family, except for one who went into hiding, were abducted. “The tehsildar refused to file an FIR, saying ‘we know the security forces have done this but we can’t interfere in their actions. They’re not in our control’.”

The best the families can hope for is that their loved ones will be released unharmed. Those who have been set free, something that depends entirely on their captors’ whim, speak of being confined in a small room with one meal a day, beaten, sometimes severely – and perhaps most chillingly – hearing the sound of the sobbing of other detainees. A few have witnessed others being tortured.

Most of those who return, however, are too traumatised to talk about their ordeal and move out of the area, afraid that people will suspect them of having become informers for the security forces in exchange for their freedom. They may have escaped death, but their lives are never the same again.

Some names have been changed to protect people’s identity.

(To be concluded)

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Comments (28) Closed



RocketBaba Apr 17, 2014 08:07am

First try to fire on the FC/Police, and when it did not work out, want to surrender, and like to go free.. What is an encounter. Use weapons and fire on the law enforcement agencies? now you call these people law abiding citizens, innocents, angry baloch? First why they have weapons, if they so innocent and poor, as you pretend in your article, where is the ammo come from, and who and how they got training to use the weapon. Police and FC has noting to do except chase a 17 year old lad without any reasons.. because FC is blood thirsty savages.? Flood Balochistan with people from other provinces,, resettlement policy, within a decade it will be all over Permanently

Ali Khan Apr 17, 2014 08:59am

From my experience in KP I remember the law enforcement agencies complain that when we capture terrorist they are released by our justice system. This is why they eliminate them as they know that they will be released again.

The PPO proposed by the current government is a positive step however it is ten years too late. The PPO when implemented in its watered down form as most of the political parties are opposed to it will create the same gaps that will result in kill and dump policy of our security agencies.

The crimes committed by the insurgents are not highlighted at all by our media and our Human Rights Agencies. I had relatives in Quetta who had to flee when they received threats.

Please be impartial and highlight the plight of non Balouchs.

sufi Mateen Apr 17, 2014 09:37am

Perfect example of poor journalism (I didn't say yellow). He said, she said is not objective reporting. State cannot tolerate separatist elements and must deal with those who are threatening state. When are you going to report a neutral report? It seems like a high school essay.

amin Apr 17, 2014 09:39am

I do not think that they are "picked up" on mere suspicion. They must be involved in some criminal acts.In the absence of quick justice, these so called criminal "freedom fighters" get away easily and then blow up pipelines and shoot at police and FC from their caves. Recently they killed so many people in Islamabad. I think these people instead of spreading hatred should work to make their province better and hence there would be no need of FC.

Chaudary Apr 17, 2014 09:49am

What about the attacks on security forces ? Their lives are equally important !

Ghost Apr 17, 2014 10:15am

These kind of inhumane atrocities should stop.

Noor Badshah Apr 17, 2014 10:27am

As son of the soil, I know the writer has showed sympathies for the separatists just to make the story sensational. No one is picked and beaten just for enjoyment. Some are playing in hands of militant groups which are funded by India to destabilise Balochistan and stop developement there, which they succeded to a great extent. Now Pakistanis are being killed both the local separatists and LEAs.

NORI Apr 17, 2014 10:48am

When you consistently mistreat some sections of your citizens, you're bound to suffer. Looks like Pakistan didn't learn the lesson from 1971.

Feroz Apr 17, 2014 10:52am

The Military Establishment will never negotiate over political demands of the people, they disrespected them in 1971 with grevious consequences. No lesson has been learned which means the situation will deteriorate and become unmanageable. Without any political settlement with the Baluch, Gwadar port will become a white Elephant.

Tasmia Apr 17, 2014 11:01am

How these people have been living in this "Free" Country for such a long time.. It raises question mark at Govt and Pak Army who ensure security for Pakistan... I am still shocked!

matteroffact Apr 17, 2014 11:14am

'Tunnel vision' is the cause of the absence of a broad or complete perspective in this article.

roza Apr 17, 2014 11:28am

Disgusting.

Muhammad Ali Baloch Apr 17, 2014 11:46am

*What was the point of this article again? I am sure there is a reason to all this. No innocent guy gets picked up by the agencies i am sure of that. No point in pointing fingers at the Armed forces they are the sole reason we independent today. *

khurram Apr 17, 2014 11:52am

I wish to read a column about those Punjabi settlers who have been innocently killed. in the name of grievance's of the province every one has concluded that this is a price these settlers have to pay. Hence no condemnations, no statistics.

Zulfiqar Ali Apr 17, 2014 12:03pm

Life of every human is important, there is no justification of FC or any related agency conduct. Those responsible for the violation of law, must be dealt severely with the law. If there are people who have done any thing wrong, they must only be handled through effective judicial system. It is about time, the Government take this issue seriously, PPO in these circumstances is not acceptable.

Naveed Alam Khattak Apr 17, 2014 12:57pm

This is what our foreign funded media shows one side of the great game in baluchistan. On one side they call those people who love Pakistan as "state funded" but on the other side they don't call those people who support terrorists as "Terrorists sympathizers". What a shame. They have the right to attack FC and cut them in pieces but FC don't have the right to retaliate in their defence. One of my relative was in FC. he has three kids. He was bringing water for his check post when he was blown up into pieces. So who is responsible? Who will take care of these three kids and widow.

Liberal Apr 17, 2014 01:12pm

FC and Army count Balochistan and Sindh as captured areas. They want to move Punjabis in these areas and kill original inhabitants.

Fahim Khan Apr 17, 2014 02:17pm

This article subtly draws our attention towards the symptoms & the reasons of ongoing conflicts within our society. With 148 out of 272 members (55%) in our parliament from Punjab, 2 from Islamabad, and 12 from FATA (148+2+12 i.e. 60%), an establishment bogged-down only with security concerns, one only needs a heart to appreciate how undemocratic our country is really today. Until people of Gilgit-Baltistan as well as those of Azad Kashmir are not brought out of political limbo (that only serves some narrow & atrocious agenda), and people & political leadership of Punjab does not accept OTHERS as their equal partners in political and economic decision making of the country - or they fail to harness military from political sphere there is hardly a chance of peace and harmony in the country - a prerequisite for desperately needed investment in our people and for us to claim our rightful position among'st comity of Nations. Lets hope that one day no one in this country will need to pick up arms against the symbols of the state rather every citizen will take pride in being Pakistan

khan Apr 17, 2014 02:45pm

@NORI: I could not understand why every 2nd person resembles the current scenario with 1971. There is no intimate connection between the present and the 1971 conflicts.

watan daar Apr 17, 2014 03:26pm

I am not sure if Balochs that disappear and are killed are innocent are not but I do know that Taliban kill people, openly claim responsibility for it but they don't go missing and are not killed. In fact the state is begging to negotiate with them. Balochs however are discriminated against even in our media. So sad and so bad.

M. Emad Apr 17, 2014 05:38pm

My Lai - Vietnam, 1971 Bangladesh, 1994 Rwanda, Balochistan ...

Ahmer Apr 17, 2014 06:12pm

The Army is following the same manual it followed in 1971. It learnt nothing from that tragedy.

Humane Punjabi Apr 17, 2014 06:21pm

from comments it is obvious that military/agencies paid/brainwashed trolls have now pointed their guns towards DAWN too!! Great article with a humane narrative, NAZIHA SYED ALI!! Don't pay any attention to establishment's mercenaries!!

raheel Apr 18, 2014 12:49am

violence is a cycle ,its a repetitive loop. a political solution / consensus must be established and grievances addressed. but america was united through a war and all state sovereignty is such, an essential act of violence. we cannot shy away from it . If idea of a united pakistan in its current form is to stay relevant than state has to assert its writ. we need not be apologetic about it and neither should be support violence as a primary means of conflict resolution. the writer needs to address the bigger issue of writ of state, which a genuine enough narrative.

may peace come to our tortured people . for only ordinary ppl suffer in all this , not me writting this and neither u ...reading this .

Khan Apr 18, 2014 04:18am

This sentence says it all ...

"several Turbat residents have no hesitation in saying that many of those killed, allegedly by security forces, are connected to the insurgency in some capacity or the other"...............

no state in the world spares a separatist?

Median Apr 18, 2014 10:10am

Thank you for highlighting the plight of the people of Makkuran. A courageous piece. and do not pay attention to trolls.

faisal nadeem Apr 18, 2014 02:14pm

These insurgents including the author should be crush .the person who will try for break the pakistan will treated like that.there is no camparison of this conflict and 1971 becoz the popolation of bangladesh was more than west pakistan but in case of balochistan the insugents people is not more than 1 million.

Zahid Khan Apr 18, 2014 05:50pm

A great article written by the author.. At the same time the quality of the comments here is equally worse..

Ignorants who know nothing about Balochistan blame the author and DAWN for having sympathies for separatists. This is absurd.

Years of brain washing, indoctrination through national television, Urdu newspapers and false history taught in text books results in flawed, biased and ridiculous comments as we can see on this page