By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
(There is) …no difference between a human being and animals in Balochistan where mutilated bodies were found on a daily basis. Supreme Court of Pakistan, April 6, 2012.
Expressing deep concern over the role of the Frontier Corps (FC) in the deteriorating situation in Balochistan, Pakistan’s Supreme Court, on July 26, 2012, directed the Force to produce 30 missing persons, or face criminal action against its personnel, who had been named in FIRs for their alleged involvement in their abductions. Heading a three-judge Bench of the Apex Court, comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, the Chief Justice (CJ) warned the FC that a failure to produce the missing persons would force the Court to order the arrest of the concerned FC officers and personnel.
Observing that Balochistan was burning, but that the executive was showing little interest in controlling the situation, the CJ added that the Court had reached a stage where “everything has been identified”, but was now giving an opportunity to the Federal and Provincial Governments to act. The CJ noted that, for the preceding three days, they had been asking the authorities concerned to enforce the Constitution in Balochistan but no one was ready to take responsibility.
On July 24, 2012, the SC had made known its disappointment over the Federal and Provincial Governments’ failure to control the worsening law and order situation in Balochistan, observing that the Province had undergone a “constitutional breakdown”. The Court had noted that no one wanted to improve the situation in the Province and that the same response was being received by the Court in every hearing of the case, with none of the Court’s orders being implemented.
Meanwhile, on July 25, 2012, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Yasin Azad complained before the Court that the situation in Balochistan had reached a point of no return, similar to 1971 – when the country’s Eastern wing broke away to form Bangladesh – and consequently needed an urgent political solution. “Believe me, Balochistan is slipping away,” he told the three-judge Bench.
Nevertheless, Raja Irshad, Counsel for FC, during the hearing on July 24, 2012, submitting a report on behalf of FC on the Province’s law and order situation, in a written statement declared that the FC had conducted internal inquiries and found that not a single missing persons was in its custody.
The Supreme Court, on April 6, 2012, had started hearings on the petition filed by the Balochistan Bar Association regarding seven missing persons of the Marri tribe. Following the Chief Justice’s directive, Quetta Police, who had earlier claimed they had no information in this regard, produced four of the seven ‘missing’ people in the Court on the same day. Justice Chaudhry suspended New Sariab Station House Officer (SHO) Noor Baksh Mengal for his false statement about the missing persons and directed Police to arrest him. The remaining three ‘missing persons’ were produced on April 12, 2012. All the seven people had been picked up during a raid in Quetta’s Sariab Mill area on March 1, 2012, and had been listed as ‘missing’ since then.
Meanwhile, on July 13, 2012, the CJ ordered Balochistan FC commander Major General Obaidullah Khattak to produce 30 people in Court, noting that there was evidence that troops were involved in their disappearance. The Court had fixed July 24, 2012, as the date for the production of the missing persons. The latest observations of July 26, 2012, were related to this order.
This is not the first time that the Supreme Court has taken the FC to task for its involvement in the disappearance of Baloch people. Hearing petitions on a disappearance case, the SC on May 14, 2012, had observed that there existed evidence that the FC were involved in abducting people in Balochistan. The Court had told the FC Inspector General Major General Khattak that respect for the Force was waning gradually, as 95 per cent of the people in Balochistan had alleged that FC was involved in the ‘disappearance’ of civilians in the Province.
Abduction and extrajudicial killing has become order of the day in the Province. The disappearances and killings are widely believed to be orchestrated by Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies, particularly including the FC and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), or by their proxies, particularly including the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan). Indeed, CJ Choudhary, on July 9, 2012, had noted that every third missing person in Balochistan had been picked up by the FC. The head of the rights group, Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VFBMP), Nasrullah Baloch, stated, on July 11, 2012, that “every day Frontier Corps and secret agencies kidnap political workers in broad daylight and keep them in their illegal torture cells, and then we receive their bullet-riddled, mutilated dead bodies.” The VFBMP on January 16, 2012, claimed that 14,385 persons have gone ‘missing’ since 2005, while more than 400 bullet riddled and tortured bodies had been dumped just since July 2010. Earlier, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), on December 10, 2011, reported that as many as 225 bullet-riddled bodies of missing persons had been recovered between July 2010 and November 2011. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), on January 31, 2012, estimated the number of executions of ‘disappeared’ persons at 271 in just six months, between July and December 2010. Similarly, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, in April 2012, that at least 300 people had been abducted and killed, and their bodies abandoned, across Baluchistan since January of 2011.
Even on the Government’s own admission, the Country is facing a major problem of ‘disappearances’, though the numbers conceded are a fraction of the reality. Justice (Retired) Javed Iqbal, head of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED), on June 9, 2012, put the number of missing persons in the entire country at 560. This included 57 from Balochistan, 117 from Punjab, 174 from Sindh, 170 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 18 from Islamabad and 12 each from Azad Kashmir and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). He recorded that 42 bodies of missing persons had been recovered in Balochistan.
Meanwhile, in another sign of the Government’s total disregard for the Baloch people, the killers of Nawab Akbar Bugti remain at large. On July 18, 2012, the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) once again issued arrest warrants for seven high-profile accused, including Former President General Pervez Musharraf, in the Bugti murder case. This was the second time that the ATC issued the arrest warrants, the first being on July 11, 2012. Nawab Akbar Bugti, the chief of the Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP), was killed on August 26, 2006, during a ‘military operation’ in the Kohlu District of Balochistan. Since then, violence in the Province has escalated dramatically. The state’s repressive machinery is working on overdrive, and there is a total collapse of civil governance in the Province, creating an environment for militant formations to thrive. According to the data compiled by theInstitute for Conflict Management (ICM), the Province has already witnessed 620 fatalities, including 408 civilians, 135 SF personnel and 77 militants, in 2012 (till July 29); as against 363 fatalities, including 278 civilians, 65 SF personnel and 20 militants during the corresponding period of the preceding year.
On April 6, 2012, the Chief Justice voiced his regret over the fact that even in the presence of 26,000 Police and 50,000 FC personnel had proven insufficient to bring the law and order situation in the province under control. If the Police performed their duty, he added, the situation could improve.
Regrettably, however, the authorities at the helm, remain in denial and refuse to accept that the situation is worsening. Chief Minister (CM) Nawab Aslam Raisani declared, on July 16, 2012, that the situation is not as bad as is portrayed by the media, adding “it appears some lobby is trying to pave the way for some unconstitutional step in Balochistan”. He blamed the same ‘lobby’ for ‘spreading negativity’ about Balochistan through the print and electronic media. An international conspiracy is at play in Balochistan, the CM claimed. Though corroborating the same theory of a ‘foreign hand’, Prime Minister (PM) Raja Parvez Ashraf, on July 17, 2012, noted that the turbulence in Balochistan, though foreign abetted, was an internal issue for the State and people of Pakistan to resolve.
Such an internal ‘resolution’ remains far out of sight, even as the involvement of Government agencies in the case of missing persons, described as “the key issue of the province” by the Chief Justice, is documented in increasing detail. The unrelenting bloodletting in Balochistan that has continued without interruption – in its present cycle – since 2005, shows no signs of abating.
Author is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi