People gather near the body of Prof. Ghulam Hussain, who was gunned down by unidentified gunmen on Quetta's Sariab road. — Photo by PPI

QUETTA: A deadly campaign of killings in Baloch areas has driven a low-level insurgency in Balochistan further underground, curtailing insurgent attacks in the province but raising fears that a new generation of Baloch youth may embrace separatist violence.Since June last year, the bodies of approximately 170 Baloch men aged between 20 and 40 have been recovered, victims of the so-called ‘kill and dump’ operations.

The killings have helped perpetuate a climate of fear, anger and uncertainty in Quetta and in the Baloch-dominated areas of the province which have already been racked by insurgent violence and a surge in criminal activity as security forces focused on combating the insurgency.

The modus operandi of the ‘kill and dump’ operations begins with security and intelligence personnel in uniform and plain clothes arriving in convoys of two to six vehicles outside the homes of victims or sometimes snatching them from nearby shops or roads.

A few days later — sometimes several weeks later — the bodies turn up in adjoining districts, dumped at a distance from the nearest road or population centre but in places where the bodies are likely to be found eventually. The victims are usually shot in the temple once.

Known locally as ‘mutilated bodies’, the signs of torture are often hard to determine because many of the bodies have already begun to decompose when discovered.

For most Baloch nationalists and human rights activists, the affiliation of the killers is an open secret: the Pakistani security forces. Led by the ISI and frequently assisted by the Frontier Corps Balochistan — though other agencies are also believed to be involved — the campaign of extrajudicial killings has occurred across Baloch-dominated areas in Quetta and in a vast sweep south towards the Arabian Sea.

The victims are often described in media reports as students, political workers, shopkeepers, government servants and labourers. However, security officials maintain there is a dark side to the victims: they are active members of the Baloch insurgency and are responsible for the deaths of civilians and security forces.

Since no extrajudicial killing has been properly investigated or successfully prosecuted, there is no legal proof of the security officials’ claims.

But in a series of interviews with Dawn in Quetta and other insurgency-hit parts of the province, security and government officials, politicians, journalists, area notables and locals suggested that the intelligence and security agencies have been conducting an extrajudicial ‘killing the killers’ campaign against Baloch insurgents since mid-2010.

All requested anonymity to speak about the deaths, with many outside the security apparatus expressing fear of reprisals from the insurgents.

‘Killing the killers’

Perhaps the most notorious ample of an alleged insurgent eliminated in an extrajudicial killing is Majeed Lango, killed in an FC encounter in Quetta in March last year.

Reaction to Lango’s death was swift, with some Baloch groups and obscure websites condemning the murder of an ‘innocent’ Baloch. But security officials in Quetta tell a very different story, accusing Lango of being the Quetta commander of the Baloch Liberation Army and responsible for over 200 deaths in the city.

The officials’ claim was corroborated by several journalists and other officials familiar with the Lango case. “Look at all the areas and roads, Safdar Road, Brewery Road, Railway Colony, where the target killings of settlers were happening, you won’t find them happening” since Lango was killed, according to a veteran journalist.

Inspector General of the Frontier Corps, Balochistan, Maj Gen Obaidullah Khan, when asked about the FC’s role in Majeed Lango’s death, said: “I have no problem with encounters as long as they are taking out murderers. Yes, a murder is a murder, but in your heart you feel less pain if a murderer is killed.”

A senior security official was adamant there was no other alternative to the extrajudicial killings, given the problems with the existing legal and tribal systems. “It’s nice to talk about principles and the state’s responsibilities, but I cannot ignore the pain” of the victims of the insurgency, the official said.

Decline in insurgent violence

The spike in killings by the security forces has mirrored a dramatic decline in the ‘target killings’ of Punjabi settlers who have been in the cross-hairs of the insurgents as a purported symbol of the federation the insurgents want to break from.

According to Muhammad Amir of the Balochistan Punjabi Ittihad, a group which tracks killings of settlers in the province, nearly 1,200 settlers have been killed so far, the vast majority in 2008-10.

“Things have been better in the last six to eight months with around 10-12 deaths being reported,” Amir claimed, adding that the exodus of Punjabi settlers from Quetta has begun to be reversed.

“Two hundred thousand settlers left Quetta since 2008 and property prices fell by as much as 60 per cent in some parts of the city, but nearly a hundred thousand have returned in the last year,” Amir said.

Insurgent violence has far from disappeared, though. “Violence is down, but it’s still a concern. Much more needs to be done,” IGFC Gen Khan said. In mid-June, a bomb attached to a motorcycle in Panjgur was detonated as an FC convoy was passing by, injuring more than a dozen FC personnel and killing three civilians, including two children.

Target killings carried out by insurgents of Baloch moderates — political workers belonging to nationalist parties like the BNP-M and the National Party — have also continued. On June 3, a National Party leader in Turbat, Nasim Jangiyan, was killed by motorcyclists who opened fire and fled. Jangiyan’s killing has been blamed on the Balochistan Liberation Front, which regards the popular BNP-M and NP as traitors to the Baloch cause.

An expanding range of targets?

With insurgent violence diminished but extant, the extrajudicial killings look set to continue. In fact, some analysts privately suggested that the murder of Saba Dashtiyari, a leftist radical who lectured at Balochistan University, on June 1 may have marked the beginning of a policy to also eliminate political supporters of the insurgency.

When asked about the allegations that Dashtiyari had been killed by the intelligence agencies, a senior security official responded defiantly: “Who owned his death? The BLA did. They put out statements eulogising him. Who was he close to? What were his politics?”

Multiple sources confirmed to Dawn that Dashtiyari, while never having taken up arms himself, was close to insurgent groups and at various times had exhorted violence against the state and other ethnicities living in Balochistan.

According to Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior Quetta-based journalist, the purpose behind eliminating non-armed supporters of the insurgency is to “send a message to the Baloch population at large that anti-Pakistan sentiment and outspokenness will be punished”.

But Zulfiqar warned that the extrajudicial tactics being used to try and quell the insurgency could trigger a backlash. “If you turn up in a village and search 100 homes and take away 10 youths, you will earn the hatred of all,” Zulfikar said.Resentment against the security forces remains all too easy to find in the Baloch heartland.In Mangucher tehsil of Kalat district, a particularly violent battleground of the insurgency, a local recounted the words of the mother of a youth whose decomposed body had been brought home for burial: “The mother forbade anyone from crying. She said it was a day of happiness because her son would never be forgotten now.”