Unending tragedies & travails of the Baloch
In Pakistan, Karima Baloch’s death was seen as part of a new trend of tracing and assassinating Baloch dissidents overseas. — Sandhya Jain
When the Frontier Corps picked up Balochistan Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) chairman Zahid Baloch in broad daylight, in the presence of three female colleagues and other local persons on March 18, 2014, Karima Baloch stepped in as acting chairman to fill the vacuum. She pioneered women’s political activism in the troubled region and bequeathed future generations a role model to emulate in the Baloch peoples’ grim struggle for political autonomy, dignity, indeed, their very lives.
Little wonder that her death on December 22, 2020, in mysterious circumstances, in Toronto, Canada, where she was living in exile with husband, Hammal Haider, for the past five years, sparked off women-led protests across Balochistan, Islamabad, Karachi and other Pakistani cities, revealing an alacrity among women to mobilize and articulate political grievances. More protests are being planned in different world capitals, including Washington D.C.
Karima had gone for a walk on Toronto’s Centre Island on December 21; she never returned and her body was found there the next day. The initial statement by the police that the case is not being investigated as a criminal incident drew protests from her husband and brother. She is the second Baloch dissident to die in suspicious circumstances this year.
On April 23, journalist Sajid Hussain who had been living in exile in Sweden since 2017 was found dead in Fyris River after having gone missing on March 2, 2020. Hussain, chief editor of the online Balochistan Times, wrote about drug trafficking, forced disappearances and the insurgency, and worked part-time as a professor in Uppsala University. Colleagues at Reporters without Borders suspect that his death was linked to his work as a journalist.
In Pakistan, Karima Baloch’s death was seen as part of a new trend of tracing and assassinating Baloch dissidents overseas. Dr. Murad Baloch, secretary general of the Baloch National Movement to which she belonged, pointed out that Pakistan had intervened in Karima’s asylum application and demanded her deportation to Pakistan. He said that Pakistan had kidnapped, disappeared, and martyred many of Karima Baloch’s family members and political colleagues; her home was raided several times in order to arrest her, and her paternal home was shelled with mortars by the Pakistani army.
Karima earned much praise for a Raksha Bandhan video message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom she addressed as “brother,” and appealed for help for the Baloch people, after Modi unexpectedly mentioned Baluchistan in his 2016 Independence Day speech. It raised still simmering hopes among the Baloch that India could change its policy toward Balochistan at some future date. In a unique gesture, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava condoled her death.
Justin Trudeau’s silence over the incident has irked the Baloch. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have demanded an investigation into her death.
Pakistan’s saga of “disappearances” began in the mid-1970s. Its first victims were Asadullah Mengal, son of Ataullah Mengal, and his friend Ahmad Shah; they were abducted on February 6, 1975. Duleep Dass, son of Air Commodore (retd.) Balwant Dass, and Sher Ali Marri, were picked up by army intelligence at Belpat in early 1975. None of them were ever seen again.
The Baloch set up various resistance groups to fight for their rights, including resisting the exploitation of their vast mineral resources without fair compensation and development of the region. Gen. Musharraf, however, was especially belligerent, and a violent standoff in the Bugti area led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006. It drew international attention to the phenomenon of forced disappearances that had grown exponentially under Musharraf.
When the Supreme Court tried to take up a petition of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on the issue of disappearances in 2007, Musharraf ordered the dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and arrest of the judges. (This triggered a lawyers’ movement that led to the restoration of democracy and reinstatement of all judges).
The investigation was reopened and in May 2010, a Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances was set up under Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal. By October 1, 2013, the Commission had traced 473 disappeared persons. But despite Chief Justice Chaudhry’s efforts, the Supreme Court could not bring members of the military and security agencies allegedly responsible for the forced disappearances to account.
In May 2009, the bullet-riddled bodies of BNM president Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, his colleague Lala Munir, and Sher Mohammad Baloch of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) were found dumped in a mountainous region 40 km from Turbat. They had been abducted by unidentified armed men from the chamber of advocate Kachkool Ali in Turbat on April 3, 2009, after the Anti-Terrorist Court Turbat dismissed charges that they were instigating political unrest in Quetta and Karachi over the growing numbers of missing persons.
Sameer Rind was picked up from his home in Turbat on the night of October 14, 2010, by armed men in Frontier Corps uniforms. At a television talk show hosted by Munizae Jahangir in Quetta in 2012, his sister, Samia Rind, asked Ayatullah Durrani, PPP president in Balochistan, why people disappeared instead of being arrested and tried. He replied: “I wish I had the authority to find these people, but the fact of the matter is, I do not”.
The International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, set up by Mama Abdul Qadeer Baloch, Farzana Majeed Baloch and Nasrullah Baloch in October 2009, claimed in 2014 that there were as many as 18,000 missing Baloch, of whom more than 2000 were killed between 2001 and 2013. Qadeer and some lady relatives of missing persons marched 3000-km in 106 days from Quetta to Islamabad, to highlight the tragedy.
Qadeer’s son, Jaleel Reki Baloch (23), a political activist, was abducted from the door of his home in Quetta, on February 13, 2009, after returning from Friday prayers. His body was found three years later, riddled with bullets and holes drilled into his bones and joints, and burn marks across his back. The then chief minister of Balochistan, Aslam Raisani, blamed the ISI, in a statement to the High Court.
In 2009, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan claimed to have received complaints of 600 missing persons, of whom 40 had been killed and 240 verified. Most of the disappeared belonged to Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Baloch National Front (BNF), Baloch National Movement (BNM), Baloch Student Organization (BSO) and Balochistan National Party (BNP). In July 2011, Human Rights Watch noted an upsurge in the number of missing persons and ‘Kill and Dump’ policy.
The violence spread to Sindh. In December 2011, Faisal Mengal, who worked for a German NGO, was killed while going from Karachi to Hyderabad, Sindh. Many Baloch who migrated to Sindh for safety, were abducted from Karachi, Hub and Khuzdar, and recovered from Lasbela district.
On February 5, 2012, Jhumer Domki, wife of Sardar Bakhtyar Khan Domki, Member, Balochistan Assembly, and elder sister of Baloch Republican Party president Brahamdagh Bugti, her 14-year-old daughter, and driver, were gunned down in Gizri area of Karachi while going to attend a wedding. On February 11, 2012, Jan Muhammad Marri, right hand man of Khair Bakhsh Marri, was abducted from Karachi; his mutilated body was found in the Hub area of Balochistan.
In October 2013, the attorney general informed the Supreme Court that Rs 400 million from the Intelligence Bureau’s secret fund was used for counter-insurgency in the province, during 2008-09. Possibly the funds were used to set up death squads as there was a quantum jump in abductions and killings in 2008.
In September 2013, Chief Justice Choudhry, heading a bench at Quetta Registry of the Supreme Court, on a petition filed by Balochistan Bar Association, said there was evidence against Frontier Corps (FC) personnel in some ‘missing’ person cases. The same month, the provincial government’s Home and Tribal Affairs Department stated that 592 mutilated bodies, mainly of Baloch political activists, had been found in the previous three years in Quetta, Kalat, Khuzdar and the Makran belt.
On January 17, 2014, mass graves were discovered in the Tootak area of Khuzdar district. Justice Muhammad Noor Meskanzai of the Balochistan High Court, who investigated the case, was told by witnesses that Shafique Mengal, son of former federal minister Naseer Mengal, had set up a militia (Baloch Musla Defai Tanzeem) in 2008 and was behind the camp where the graves were found.
A high court lawyer assisting Justice Meskanzai said Shafique Mengal protected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in Balochistan and worked closely with the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Former chief minister Akhtar Mengal, head of the Balochistan National Party–Mengal (BNP-M), blamed Shafique Mengal for the murder of several of his party cadre in Wadh and Khuzdar.
On January 30, 2016, Dr. Abdul Manan, secretary-general of the Baloch National Movement, was killed by security forces in Mastung. He was vehemently opposed to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, was shot dead on August 8, 2016. When lawyers and journalists arrived at the Emergency Ward of the Civil Hospital, Quetta, a suicide bomber triggered a blast that killed more than 70 persons (including 54 lawyers) and injured 120 persons. Earlier, on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, 75 persons were killed in a blast near a park in Lahore.
On May 14, 2019, Muhammad Naseem (27), a final year student at Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto University of Law, Karachi, and his fiancée Hani Gul, a student of medicine, were picked up by plainclothes officials in the city. The International Human Rights Council (IHRC-HK) reported that Naseem, an ex-central committee member of the Baloch Republican Student Organisation, was abducted along with BRSO general secretary Aftab Ahmad. Hani and Aftab were released in August, but Naseem’s whereabouts are still unknown.
Lawyer and retired colonel, Inamur Rahim, was abducted from his home on Adiala Road, Rawalpindi, at midnight, December 17, 2019, by several persons in black uniform with a Pakistani flag stitched on the sleeves.
In the last two decades, several Baloch political activists, intellectuals, doctors, engineers, artists, journalists and tribal elders have been taken away by intelligence agencies and the military. Despite meticulous documentation by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, International Committee of Red Cross, Asian Human Rights Commission, United Nation High Commission for Refugees, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and various Baloch human rights groups, the Baloch saga of missing-found-dead continues, with no reprieve in sight.