The situation of Balochistan is no different to that of the former East Pakistan (Bangladesh) when the military carried out operations and killed more than 300,000 people in the guise of protecting ideological boundaries.
The government does not consider extrajudicial killings anything out of the ordinary and one of the reasons for this is that they have lost all control over the military, para-military forces and state intelligence agencies that control the province. These military forces brook no interference into their affairs and use ‘national security’ and the protection of ideological boundaries to justify the killings and disappearances of innocent persons, particularly students.
Not a single day goes by without an extrajudicial killing. In the recent years a new phenomenon has been introduced in the cases of disappearances where the victims are extrajudicially killed in order to destroy any evidence of wrong doing.
The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), an organization which collects data about the disappearances and extrajudicial killings has compiled a list of 206 persons from July 2010 to date from different districts of Balochistan. The victims were extrajudicially killed and their mutilated bodies which bore marks of torture were found on the roadside. Amongst the 206 corpses 32 of them were not identified as their bodies were too badly decomposed. Many persons were identified by their clothes, shoes and personal effects.
The provincial government and Federal Minister for Interior Affairs claim that the Balochis were agitating against the government and were killed as a result of their ‘illegal’ actions. They do not accept the claim by activists that the deceased were extrajudicial killed. The media has been prevented from covering the incidents of disappearances and killings by the state forces. However, they do produce reports that anti-state activists were killed due to their militancy or in-fighting between militant groups. It has become increasingly dangerous for the people of Balochistan, particularly students to travel outside the province as they are arrested or taken out from the vehicles and kept in incommunicado and after some time their bullet riddled bodies are found.
The month of October 2011 was selected for dumping the bodies of the missing persons in the province as the PM was visiting to the province. This act shows the arrogance of the military forces and intelligence agencies operating in the province that no civil authority should question their power.
To substantiate their arrogance a massive military operation has been launched in the Chamalang areas of Balochistan. The Pakistani Air Force have pounded the villages with heavy bombardments resulting in the deaths of two women and a child besides the destruction of several homes and live stock. Jet fighters, helicopters and heavy artillery have been deployed and they are constantly pounding area indiscriminately. Fear of more deaths and destruction is likely to increase in the affected areas, which is out of bounds to foreign and local media.
If words of students and activists and journalists offend Pakistan’s army or go against the intelligence agencies they face death. In many cases, the abducted persons were not even political activists but were only Baloch civilians.
The people of Balochistan are generally termed as the anti-state elements by the law enforcing agencies and the federal ministry of interior and whenever any citizen of the province talks about their rights he or she has to face the brutal action of the law enforcement agencies who are alien to Balochistan and have no concept of the local culture and traditions. The situation is very much similar to that of former East Pakistan (Bangladesh) where troops from other parts of the Pakistan unleashed terror against the local population and who were totally unaware of the local culture and tradition, which resulted in the killings of more than 300,000 Bengalis and the dismemberment of the country. In Balochistan the local people are treated as agents of India as Bengalis were accused of being so many years ago. The Federal Ministry of the Interior always blames the nationalist as being Indian agents but he rarely visits the province.
Ironically, this same ministry never takes any action against the Jihadis or sectarian militant organizations that kill the people on a daily basis in bomb blasts, terrorist activities or sectarian violence against the religious minority groups. It is said that religious militant groups and Jihadis have the patronage of Pakistani military and the ministry.
In his latest visit to Balochistan, the PM ignored the issues of the Balochi people and allied himself with the army forces.
The Supreme Court and the judicial commission formed to investigate forced disappearances have proved totally impotent and more concerned with appeasing the military than providing justice to the families of the disappeared. In the hearings the judges and conveners made loud pronouncements for the sake of the media but do not have the courage to call the military officers and others identified by the victims and their families to appear.
The entire country of Pakistan is on the brink of a violent movement which may prove more than they can handle. The government has the option of reining in the military and intelligence agencies and providing justice to the victims. However, it would appear that it concerned only with its own survival. What the government must realise is that the people of Balochistan will only be pushed so far before they start pushing back and that will lead to untold horror and bloodshed.
The acceptance of the government of the absence of the rule of law and the ongoing human rights abuses is not going unnoticed by the electorate. The international community is taking notice of this and the government will not be able to sweep this under the carpet by denying knowledge of what is going on.
The government must come to its senses and put a stop to the endless extrajudicial killings of the citizens of Balochistan and order the immediate release of all those who have been forcibly disappearances. Also, it must urgently pass legislation to make forced disappearances a crime under the laws of the country. The military presence in Balochistan must be withdrawn and a tribunal formed to investigate the human rights abuses perpetrated by the military and punish those persons found guilty.
After a decade of fierce battles resulting in hundreds of killings, the order, if not law, has been restored to a larger part of Balochistan.
However, a pall of despair hangs over the province. Haunting deprivation, discrimination and disenchantment are starkly evident and cannot be callously refuted by merely alleging that it’s the handiwork of foreign hands. A cursory look at the indicators of human development and political affairs depicts a lamentable picture and merits deeper introspection rather than denial.
The problem in the province resurrect after a hiatus of few years because political remedies are always ignored.
Balochistan has emerged as a pertinent example of the resource curse doctrine. It is widely believed that Balochsitan’s treasure of minerals and strategic location are the two major factors behind the persistent turmoil in the province. The ruling establishment has a peculiar interest in Balochistan because of these factors. Reqo Diq, Saindak, Sui and Chamalang produce a wealth of resources like copper, gold, natural gas, coal and other minerals.
Reko Diq is a copper and gold mine in Chaghai district with an estimated value up to $500bn. It holds about 5.9 billion tonnes of ore, making it the world’s fifth largest deposit of gold and copper. The Saindak mine is estimated to have ore reserves of 412 million tonnes containing on average 0.5 gram of gold per ton and 1.5 grams of silver per tonne.
The project has the capacity to produce 15,800 tonne of blister copper annually, containing 1.5 tonne of gold and 2.8 tonne of silver. Chamalang coal mines spread over an area of 500 square miles are located in Loralai, Kohlu and Barkhan. A total of 500 million tonnes of coal deposits have been confirmed worth over Rs2000 billion. A huge cache of 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was discovered in Sui in 1952. The gas field has transformed economic panorama of the country except Balochistan itself.
Regrettably, even traces of this wealth are not visible in any part of Balochistan. In a sharp contrast to its abundance of natural endowmnet, abject poverty and impoverishment dominate the socio-economic landscape of the province.
According to a report “Multidimensional Poverty in Pakistan”, issued by UNDP and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), 71.2 percent of the population in Balochistan is victim of multi-dimensional poverty. Rural areas are even worse where 84.6 population lives under stifling multidimensional poverty. This explains a scandalous state of key human development indicators in the province.
Net enrolment ratio in the province is 53 per cent against the national average of 57 per cent. The mother mortality rate in the country is 276 (per 100,000 live births), whereas the mother mortality rate in Balochistan is outrageously over 900. Only 43 per cent of children are fully immunised in the province against a national average of 78 per cent.
Pakistan Demographic Health Survey reveals that an estimated 111 children (of every 1,000 births) are dying before their fifth birthday in Balochistan. Ninety-seven of these children do not even attain an age of one year. Additionally, Unicef reported that there is no vaccination centre in 39 per cent of the union councils in the province.
A recent report of the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) “Quality Sub-National Human Development Indicators” revealed that out of 15 top districts ranked on the human development index did not include a single district of Balochistan whereas, 12 of the bottom 15 district were located in Balochistan.
While exploitation by the federal government is an irrefutable reason behind the miseries of Balochistan, apathetic plunder of the residual resources by the local bureaucracy and legislators cannot be excused. Seventh National Finance Commission (NFC) award considerably bolstered the financial kitty of the province. Balochistan received Rs40 billion under the federal transfers in 2009-10 which increased to Rs141.9 billion in 2013-14. This tremendous upsurge of the financial resources is an opportunity to improvise services and infrastructure in the province to some extent.
In the current financial year, Balochistan’s estimated receipts from the federal government amount to approx. Rs197 billion. Considering the accumulated development deficit of the province, judicious use of these resources can assuage some of the miseries of the people. Unfortunately, venal elements manage to gobble a large chunk of the kitty and thus preclude some improvement in the lives of the masses. Political leadership and provincial administration have to demonstrate their compassion and commitment to their people otherwise their murmur against the federal government will lose its legitimacy.
Nonetheless, a discriminatory treatment meted out to the province is not just a canard. The province has been flippantly ignored on various accounts. Energy is a pivotal ingredient of the modern day economic development. While natural gas is generously pumped out of Balochistan to make other provinces prosperous, the province itself has been deprived of its benefits.
In May 2014, the ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources revealed in the Senate that out of the 32 district headquarters of Balochistan, only 13 towns had the natural gas facility and 59 percent of the urban population in the province was deprived of this facility.
In absence of quality education institutions, Balochistan faces an acute dearth of human resources. This ultimately culminates in under-representation of the province in technical jobs and senior bureaucracy. According to a newspaper report of January 2014, over 4,000 posts reserved for Balochistan in 52 departments were lying vacant. A special committee tasked to deal with the issues pertaining to Balochistan also identified that around 272 of these vacancies were BPS-17 to BPS-21 positions.
Political leadership and civil society of Balochistan have serious concerns on keeping the CPEC shrouded with little information to public. Gwadar will be the epicentre of the scheme which brings myriad fears, more vexing of them is an inescapable influx of the non-locals. Securing political and economic rights for the local community would determine the degree of affection for the CPEC among the Baloch.
The most agonising of all the factors are relentless abductions and cold blooded killings in the province. Both state and non-state actors enjoy complete impunity and murderers of innocent people often go scot-free.
Settled for generations, the Punjabi speaking community was preyed upon by militants and the native Baloch became a victim of the lethal operation by security forces. Pogrom of ethnic Hazara community has brought ignominy for the province where hundreds of Hazara people have been brutally murdered. More recently, an innocuous and peaceful Zikri community has faced persecution in southern districts.
Abduction for ransom has evolved as a lucrative industry. A provincial secretary, Abdullah Jan, was kidnapped in broad daylight from Quetta. In August 2016, more than 70 persons including a large number of eminent lawyers of Quetta were targeted by a suicide bomber that erased a cadre of brilliant legal brains of the province. In October 2016, terrorists targeted an insufficiently guarded police training centre in Quetta, killing more than 60 young cadets. Countless people were picked up and their mutilated bodies were dumped. The Baloch consider it their genocide.
Security forces have also been in the crosshairs and dozens of their personnel have been killed. In August 2016, the DIG Investigations and Crime informed a committee of the Senate that 1,040 people have been killed in Balochistan in the last two years. According to a report published in a leading newspaper in July 2014, over 800 bodies were found in Balochistan during three-and-a-half years.
All these elements have resulted in a cumulative paralysing effect on the province. It has stunted economic growth and unraveled social fabric of the Balochistani society. Managing matters in the province requires political acumen and sagacity. Balochistan needs a healing touch and a realistic recognition of its issues. Enhanced consultation with the provincial government on the federal government’s development projects, more representation of Balochistan in the federal government, transparent and effective utilisation of development funds, investment in human resource development, special attention to law and order situation and containing human rights violations can help restore tranquility in the province.