Issues of missing persons and death squads in Balochistan
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Amidst the murky environment in strife-torn Baluchistan, sudden appearance of Balochistan National Party (BNP) leader Akhtar Mengal from his self-imposed exile since 2009 was a surprise for many. He is relatively moderate and wants to settle grievances remaining within the framework of federation of Pakistan. Assurances given by Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami and above all the tough stand taken by the Supreme Court against the Army and agencies and chief justice softness for the Baloch nationalists must have encouraged him to make a brief four-day sojourn. The apparent purpose of his short sojourn to Pakistan was to reinforce the case of missing persons taken up by the Supreme Court and to give out his loaded six-point plan, which he intends to play upon in the next general elections and reinvigorate Baloch nationalism at the cost of Army’s reputation.
He came out with a six-point program as a means to a political settlement, but it contained hints of secession. His six points are being viewed with mixed feelings both within the general public and the nationalist Baloch leaders. Those having apprehensions are drawing parallels with late Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s six points which divided Pakistan. Even the military see him with suspicious eyes and is not sure of his motives since Mengal has been advocating right of self-determination for the Baloch. Those in favor argue that he has broken the ice and has given a political roadmap for reconciliation which helps in building trust between estranged Baloch and the government.
Brahamdagh Bugti, Harbyar Marri and Suleiman Daood in exile in Geneva and London respectively along with other hard-line Baloch nationalist leaders are quite vexed and view it as a sellout to the government, and a blow to their separatist agenda. Even the Baloch Sardars in the government are feeling edgy that the nationalists allegedly backed by the establishment may snatch power from them. Talal Bugti led JWP and Mir Hasil Bizenjo led NP too are having reservations. Given the conflicting perceptions, Akhtar Mengal will not have a smooth sailing. Once Akhtar decides to take part in the forthcoming elections, his opponents will dub him as a collaborator. However, the Baloch nationalists are a house-divided and stand on a weak wicket.
In response to Akhtar’s demands, the Chief Justice demanded that all missing persons should be produced before the court and all proxy death squads created by the ISI and MI should be disbanded. His directive implied that he had accepted Akhtar’s contention without being furnished proof. Chief Justice’s stance together with the visit of UN team has encouraged vested groups and external power centres harboring ill-motives against Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular to go-ahead with their agenda. Doom-Sayers say that the final act will be played before the departure of US-NATO troops from Afghanistan, and that the UN and the US will start making overt moves in 2013 leading to declaring Balochistan an "occupied area".
The trend of enforced disappearance and involuntary disappearances in South Asian states is an old one. In Nepal where Maoist rebels had battled government forces for over a decade was confronted with this issue. In Sri Lanka where Tamil Tigers fought a secessionist war for over 30 years had one of the highest levels of unresolved enforced disappearances in the world. Well over 10,000 enforced disappearances have taken place in Indian-occupied Kashmir. However, this issue has been blown up out of all proportions in Balochistan and the figure excessively bloated to over 14000. It is strange that despite JWP leader Talal Bugti furnishing a list of just 600 missing persons to the two-member UN team, the latter remained glued with the imaginary figures of 14000. The visitors who had come with preconceived notion took no interest in the evidence presented to them about most of the missing persons hiding in Farari camps both in the mountains of interior Balochistan and in neighboring province of Afghanistan but lent receptive ears to the imaginary tales narrated by foreign paid NGOs and vested interests. The initial assessment of the UN team given in the preliminary report in which the entire focus is on law enforcement agencies indicates a clear bias.
In 2008, the propaganda on missing persons was initiated and at that time it was claimed that 2390 persons were missing. Once the judicial commission took up the case the figure dropped to 392. By the close of 2010, the figure further slumped to 134. In March 2011, second judicial commission was formed to authenticate cases of 755 missing persons including 138 noted by the first commission. Out of 755 persons, 256 persons have been located. Investigations reveal that most of the missing persons are either underground, or involved in insurgency and in heinous crimes. Many have been killed in family or personal feuds. Evidence of several missing persons present in Farari camps in Baluchistan and in Afghanistan was presented to the UN Group but this aspect was not inscribed in the UN report. It has been gathered from some of the militants who managed to escape from Farari camps that those showing inclinations to give up militancy and return home are tortured to death by death squads of BLA, BRA, BLA under the supervision of CIA, RAW, MI-6, RAAM. They revealed that the killers wore FC uniform. It is also well known that Blackwater is also involved in mysterious killings of Baloch nationalists.
Moreover, among the 77 big and small Sardars of different tribes, bigger and powerful tribes like the Bugtis, Mengals and Marris are immersed in inter-tribal rivalry. They operate private militias and jails and have death squads. Fifty tribes in Balochistan are deeply involved in major feuds because of which 14 districts are restive. Among the Sardars, Khair Bux Marri remains the fiercest proponent of separatism. He also vehemently hates Punjabi settlers in Balochistan and now it is common strategy of the dissidents to rid the province of the presence of Punjabis. He was the only one who had refused to sign the 1973 constitution. Although majority of Sardars are pro-establishment and are in the government, most are involved in corrupt and criminal practices. They are least interested in running the government machinery, and have politicized the police and levies because of which, law and order has broken down in the province.
In 2011, 565 violent acts including murder took place in the troubled districts and the number rose to 1157 in 2012. During the last six years, 1400 settlers (Punjabis and Urdu speaking) have been killed. Under the obtaining volatile environments where the security forces and agencies are battling the foreign supported insurgents under adverse conditions and are the victims of terrorism, it is indeed preposterous to make an allegation that death squads are operating under ISI and MI. Military and intelligence agencies are not to prop up armed non-state actors but are mandated to identify, operate and nab terrorists.
A thorough probe should be conducted by an independent judicial commission to trace the real culprits. It will not be difficult for the investigators to ascertain the last destination from where and for what duration the calls on mobile phone were made by the victim. The Supreme Court needs to take cognizance of the tragic incident in Chamalang coalmines where a security party of 14 soldiers under the command of Maj Shehzad Amer providing protection to mine diggers belonging to different provinces was ambushed, the security members kidnapped and brutally killed. It was a pre-meditated act by foreign agents to undermine the highly successful Army’s project which has made the people of that impoverished region prosperous and educated. The judiciary and media should strengthen the hands of law enforcement agencies rather than discouraging them and encouraging the insurgents supported by foreign agencies.