Disturbing testimony gathered by human rights workers has drawn attention to the untold numbers of people being detained, tortured and “disappeared” by Pakistan’s security forces in Balochistan. The activists say such incidents of torture and extra-judicial killing have continued since the election of a civilian government in three years ago.
Dragged, hand-cuffed, blindfolded, beaten and almost never told why they have been seized, dozens of individuals have bean hit with sticks or leather belts, hung upside down or deprived of food or sleep. The people doing it to them rarely identify themselves.
Many of the people seized are activists seeking independence or autonomy for the province in the west and south-west of the country. One man, Bashir Azeem, a member of the Baloch Republican Party, was seized in 2005, 2006 and 2009. He told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that had been questioned, threatened and tortured. “
They pushed pins under my nails, put a chair on my back and sat on top of it, and put me for 48 hours into a room where I could only stand but not move,” he said. “When they took me out, my legs were so swollen that I collapsed on the floor and fainted.”
Detailing Mr Azeem’s treatment in a new report based on interviews with more than 100 people, HRW says that while hundreds of people have disappeared since 2005, there have been dozens of cases since the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government came to power in 2008. It details a total of 45 cases of alleged disappearances.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, covering almost half the area of the country. Yet it is almost the most sparsely populated and a place where human rights abuses have long been overlooked or ignored. For years, the security forces have targeted groups seeking independence for the oil-rich region. Over the years, scores of activists and political leaders have been assassinated or seized because of their actual, or suspected, actions. Others have been targeted because of their tribal affiliations.
“Pakistan’s security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants disappear, and in many cases are executed,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director of HRW. “The national government has done little to end the carnage in Balochistan, calling into question its willingness or ability to control the military and intelligence agencies.”
He added: “Pakistani security services are brazenly disappearing, torturing, and often killing people because of suspected ties to the Baloch nationalist movement. This is not counterinsurgency – it is barbarism and it needs to end now.”
Many abuses were perpetrated in Balochistan by troops, paramilitaries and the intelligence agencies during the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, and in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11. A veteran leader of the independence movement, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed and many of his supporters were jailed or else killed.
Yet it seems, the security forces also “disappear” those who become an annoyance. The report detailed the case of 14-year-old Nasibullah Langao and 12-year-old Abdul Waheed, taken away by the paramilitary Frontier Corps. They went missing after seeking information about the killing of the 14-year-old uncle, a few days earlier. Apparently the two boys remain missing.
Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad-based strategic analyst and author, said the situation in Balochistan had a complex history and that the province had long suffered from poor governance and an over-reliance on the armed forces and paramilitaries for its security. “There is also a nexus between some of the hard-line separatists and organised crime,” he added.
HRW said that figures about the number of people who have “disappeared” in the province are wildly inconsistent. In 2008, Rehman Malik, head of the interior ministry in the new civilian administration, said he believed there had been at least 1,100 such victims. Yet in January 2011, Balochistan’s home minister, Mir Zafrullah Zehri, told provincial politicians that only 55 people were considered missing.
In its report, HRW claimed that a number of government officials, including Balochistan’s chief minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani, a senior member of the PPP, had told relatives that intelligence personnel were responsible for the disappearance but said they could not hold the abductors accountable. No-one was yesterday immediately available from the government for comment.Reuse content