A man removes burning tyres set alight by protesters in Karachi April 9, 2009. The protesters were demonstrating against the killing of political activists in Balochistan. — Reuters

KARACHI Riots have broken out in Karachi as well as Quetta, Khuzdar and other areas of Balochistan after the bodies of three Baloch political activists were located by the police near Turbat late on Wednesday.

Baloch National Movement (BNM) President Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir, also of the BNM, and Sher Mohammad Baloch of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) were found dead in a mountainous area 40 kilometres away from Turbat.

The three were picked up by unidentified armed men from the chamber of Advocate Kachkol Ali in Turbat on April 3, 2009. 'I was right there when three cars full of men dressed in civilian clothes showed up outside my chamber.'

'On that day, the Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC) Turbat had dismissed all cases against Ghulam Baloch, Lala Munir and Sher Mohammad Baloch and there were no more cases against the three.' The activists had been accused of sparking political unrest in Quetta and Karachi in relation to the Baloch nationalist movement and the increasing number of missing persons cases. In the past few months, Baloch politicians and nationalists have alleged that members of nationalist groups have been abducted by government agencies.

'The unidentified men stormed into my office and began tying the three up,' says Advocate Ali. 'A scuffle followed and one of the lawyers there started resisting. They tied him up but he was released once the men ascertained his identity,' he says. 'I believe they were killed soon after they were picked up.'

'All three of them were shot in the head and the conditions of their bodies indicate they were killed soon after they went missing,' adds BNM's acting president Asa Zafar. According to a report, the dead bodies were at least six days old.

It is notable that Ghulam Mohammad Baloch was also a member of the 10-member committee constituted by Hyrbyar Marri to ascertain the identities of Balochistan's missing persons as well as to negotiate the release of UNHCR's Quetta director John Solecki. Ghulam Baloch was abducted from the advocate's chamber on April 3 and Solecki was released the very next morning.

'After the government of Pakistan denied knowledge of the 1,109 missing as demanded by the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), this committee was constituted to ascertain the numbers and the identities of the missing,' a cousin of Ghulam Baloch says.

'Only two days before Ghulam was taken away from Advocate Ali's chamber, a United Nations committee had met Khairbux Marri. On that same day, Ghulam Baloch spoke to the press and said the committee was making headway in its attempts to secure Solecki's release.'

Asked as to what prompted Solecki's abductors, whose demand was justice for Balochistan's missing, to release the UN official when a committee member aiming to secure that very release had also gone missing, Asa Zafar said 'We are a political party. We do not know any of Solecki's abductors and what happened with Ghulam Baloch is nothing but a conspiracy against our party and against the people of Balochistan.'

'When Solecki was abducted, a crackdown had started against Baloch nationalist groups. Ghulam had told me on several occasions that he was being threatened with death,' Ameen Baloch, BNM's representative in Karachi, adds.

'It is possible that Ghulam Baloch was deeply involved in some of the investigations regarding the missing and had uncovered something crucial.... Maybe that is why he and his colleagues were killed,' Ghulam's cousin suggests.

But BRP's Riaz Badeni says that 'Solecki's is a separate subject altogether.' His opinion is echoed by BRP Karachi chapters leader Shahnawaz Baloch, who argues that there is no connection between the abduction and the subsequent killing of the three activists and Solecki's release. 'It is only elements from within the government who have orchestrated the attacks, he says.

For his part, Advocate Ali argues that a new tactic is transpiring, which involves the abduction and extra-judicial killing of people. 'The abduction of Ghulam, Lala Munir and Sher Mohammad was a downright insult of the ATC's decision,' he adds.

According to the advocate, after the April 3 incident, he tried to register an FIR against the chiefs of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Frontier Corps (FC), but no case was registered. 'I was shooed away by the police,' he says. 

Meanwhile, Provincial Minister for Irrigation Aslam Bizenjo expresses outrage at the death of the Baloch activists. '[The perpetrators] want to disrupt peace in Balochistan,' he says. Bizenjo alleges that this is the work of government agencies and claims that he, along with several other members of the provincial assembly, will be registering an official protest. 

While protests and rioting continues, a three-member tribunal, comprising Balochistan High Court judges, has been constituted by Balochistans Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani to investigate the activists' death. 

The Balochistan High Court has also taken a suo motu notice in this regard. It has summoned the provincial home secretary, police chiefs of the Turbat and Panjgur districts and the concerned areas Station House Officer (SHO) on April 16 while taking notice of the incident.

Earlier, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Ali Ahmed Kurd announced a boycott of courts in Balochistan for three days as well as a boycott across Pakistan on April 13 to condemn the killings. He had demanded that the killers be arrested and produced before the courts.

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