Activists claim thousands of ethnic Balochs have been abducted by Pakistan’s intelligence agency amidst a bloody separatist battle in the country’s south-western Balochistan province. Our Observer, a Baloch, says he is terrified of being mistaken for a militant and getting kidnapped.
The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons group says many of the abducted have been tortured and killed, their bodies turning up on roadsides or slung into trees. Baloch activists regularly stage missing persons rallies in protest and a daytime hunger strike is well into its third year. Armed Baloch separatists retaliate to the abductions with suicide bombs and rocket attacks.
In its report ‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’, Human Rights Watch states “enforced disappearances by state security forces have become a distinctive feature of the conflict in Balochistan”. It joined in the United Nations’ call for the Pakistani state to “tackle the serious challenge of enforced disappearances”. The ISI admits hundreds of Balochs are in detention, but claims it only detains individuals it is “100% sure” are violent separatists.
Photo showing ongoing hunger strike in Balochistan, August 11, 2013. The strike’s leader, Mama Qadeer, sits in the middle. He is the father of a student activist, Jalil Reki Baloch, who was abducted and killed. Mama Qadeer stays in his tent all day, everyday, only eating at night. He attracts followers, who come and go.
Baloch separatists are fighting an ongoing separatist battle of the region they claim the Pakistani army invaded in 1948, a year after the end of the British Raj when Pakistan was granted sovereignty. The Pakistani government contests this, arguing Balochistan was never made an independent state. Balochistan is strategically important: not only is it the largest province in Pakistan, it is also resource-rich and shares a border with its turbulent neighbour, Afghanistan.
Baloch militants regularly carry out deadly attacks in Balochistan: on August 8 of this year the BLA shot dead 13 bus passengers travelling south-east of the provincial capital, Quetta. Days later, the BLA was suspected of being behind a suicide blast that killed almost forty people during a police chief’s funeral in Quetta.
Photo taken in London, 24th August 2013, showing Baloch Human Rights Council delivering petition against “judicial killings and systematic genocide” to Number 10 Downing Street, official residence of the British Prime Minister. Photo published on Council's Facebook page.
"I could be picked up anytime"
Baloch (not his real name) lives in Quetta. He is an ethnic Baloch, but is not a member of a political party or activist group.
Almost every Baloch family has a member who has gone ‘missing’. It’s routine here. My cousin was taken by unnamed security personnel and two months later his dead body was found by a roadside. He was taken to hospital for an autopsy and the doctors found he had been shot, and there were signs his ribcage had been drilled into, presumably as a method of torture. They accused him of being a militant, but he wasn’t.People are taken all the time, and then their bodies are dumped. The killings aren’t an illusion. Even today, a former senator, Sana Baloch, tweeted that a body of an abducted man had been found.Photo showing Missing Persons rally, Quetta August 2013I support the missing person rallies and the hunger strike, but I’ve never joined in. I have five children and I don’t want them growing up without their father. I’m too afraid of attending such rallies.I’m against violent acts, because violence creates violence. Innocent people are killed by the security forces – women, children, poets, teachers. I live in a constant state of fear: I could be picked up anytime. That makes Balochs turn to fighting.Photo showing Missing Persons rally, Quetta August 2013When a Baloch is abducted, the Baloch militants get their revenge. Those who can go into the hills join the fight, the rest of us live in fear. We’re into our sixth war since 1948. What have we got from these six wars? More hatred and violence [Editor’s note: Unrest and abductions have risen sharply since the 2006 death of the Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. Baloch activists claim the army lured him into a trap then bombed the cave he had set up camp in. The government says the cave simply collapsed on its own].If the Baloch separatists fail to attack the army, because it’s so well protected, then they attack civilians, often the Pashtuns [Editor’s note: 55% of Balochistan’s residents speak Balochi as their first language, 30% speak Pashto, while the remaining 15% speak Sindhi, Seraki , Punjabi and Urdu. Mother tongues are an important marker of ethnic distinction in Pakistan].I don’t understand how violence can lead to peace and prosperity. I want independence. Any group of people want the freedom to live without fear, without repression.Photo showing Missing Persons rally, Quetta August 2013