Balochistan Abuses Forced Into Spotlight By Amir Mir
Hoagland was told that the hearing was unacceptable as it was tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of the country, the Foreign Office said in a statement.
ISLAMABAD – An unprecedented open hearing by the United States House of Representatives on human-rights violations in Pakistan’s trouble-ridden Balochistan province, coupled with bitter criticism of the Pakistani state by two well-reputed international human-rights organizations for its failure to protect civilians from the security agencies, has raised many eyebrows in the Pakistani military establishment that alleges suspicious motives on the part of the Americans.
Amid heightening civil-military conflict in Pakistan’s largest province, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said that Pakistani security forces and the intelligence agencies are resorting to grave human-rights abuses in Balochistan.
While the AI has called on the US to ensure that assistance for the Pakistani military stationed in Balochistan is not channeled into abuse, HRW has asked the US to take action against glaring human-rights violations in Balochistan, where enforced disappearances are causing misery.
The two groups have criticized the Pakistani security forces for their alleged involvement in forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Baloch nationalists. That criticism and the February 8 debate in the US Congress brought a strong reaction from the country’s all-powerful security establishment, with army chief General Ashfaq Kiani saying no military operations were being carried out in Balochistan and that no security forces had been involved in human-rights violations.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, clearly agitated over the poor situation, had said during a hearing in March 2011 that the government should take practical steps instead of issuing policy statements regarding abduction and targeted killings in Balochistan.
Significantly, during the course of the same court proceedings, Balochistan’s Advocate General Salahuddin Mengal observed that the people of Balochistan recovered bodies day in and day out because the Frontier Constabulary and police were lifting people in broad daylight at will. “We are helpless. Who can check the Frontier Constabulary? End the burning issue of missing persons first and then blame the Balochistan government for not controlling law and order,” he added.
Balochistan is the most meticulously controlled garrison province of Pakistan and has always had a tense relationship with the central government, mainly due to the touchy issues of provincial autonomy and control of mineral resources.
The intensity of human-rights abuses in the province can be gauged from the statistics provided by the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The bodies of at least 241 “missing persons” were recovered from various parts of the province between July 2010 and December 2011, while in the same period at least 188 cases of enforced disappearance were reported – many of whom turn up dead after being dumped in desolate places, according to the commission’s data. For the HRCP, the fact that not even a single individual has been held accountable is a matter of regret.
International criticism of the situation in Balochistan is in line with the HRCP’s contention that the affairs of the province cannot be set right so long as its fate is decided exclusively by the security establishment. A fact-finding HRCP mission to Balochistan between May 4 and 7, 2011 reported:
Enforced disappearances continue to be a matter of great concern. It has been noted that bodies recovered have had signs of extreme torture. All authority seems to vest with the security forces. The civil administration, elected by the people and meant to represent them, appears to have ceded its powers.
The notoriety of the province for extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances was behind the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs’ decision to hold its open hearing on Balochistan on February 8.
Amnesty International, in its submission to the committee, called on the Pakistan government to end enforced disappearances that target Baloch nationalists, an increasing number of whom are being found dead days or months after disappearing. It called on Pakistan to bring all perpetrators of abuses to justice, provide fair trials to those brought to justice and ensure any military operations comply with international humanitarian laws.
The group also called on all non-state armed groups in Balochistan to refrain from committing human-rights abuses, respect the laws of Pakistan and also ensure that the civilians were not exposed to violence.
“Balochistan is one of the most militarized regions of Pakistan, with the military, paramilitary Frontier Corp and the Levies [another paramilitary force], and police stationed across this vast province,” AI said in the briefing paper. “Despite this presence, or perhaps because of it, Balochistan is one of the most dangerous parts of Pakistan, with armed groups affiliated with the state, sectarian armed groups, armed groups hostile to the state, and criminal gangs operating with near complete impunity,” the paper noted.
Amnesty warned that the province is gradually heading to a state of perpetual conflict that threatens stability not only in Pakistan but also in the neighboring countries of Afghanistan and Iran, and throughout the region. “The fighting between Pakistan forces and armed Baloch groups may reach a level of intensity that would make the laws of war applicable,” it warned, quoting an investigation of its own which showed that at least 249 Baloch activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers disappeared or were killed between October 24, 2010 and September 10, 2011, many in so-called “kill and dump” operations.
Amnesty then called on the US administration to apply the Leahy Amendment to all the Pakistani military units stationed in Balochistan. Application of the amendment would mean the US would have to ensure that American military assistance to the Pakistan military and security forces in Balochistan is not linked to human-rights abuses.
According to Mustafa Qadri, AI’s Pakistan researcher: “There should be no surprises here, the fundamental problem is the total impunity enjoyed by human rights abusers and the failure of the state [of Pakistan] to address the horrendous poverty and disenfranchisement being felt by the Baloch people and other communities.”
A comprehensive report compiled by the Pakistan director of the HRW, Ali Dayan Hasan, has recommended the US government press Pakistan to take all necessary measures to end human-rights violations in Balochistan and to prosecute those responsible for crimes including extra-judicial killings, torture, illegal detention, disappearances and forced displacement.
The report states that government agencies such as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau, the Frontier Corps and police are responsible for many of the violations and it demands the government take action.