November 18, 2012

Why did the Foreign Minister shy away from the issue of Balochistan in her address to the United Nations?

Stewart Sloan

In her presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Universal Periodic Review the Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar painted a rosy picture of the progress that Pakistan has made over the past four years. However, it was what Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar did not talk about that raised the ire of her audience at that function and around the world. Amongst the items that she failed to mention was the situation in Balochistan. 

Balochistan is the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan with a total area almost one half of the entire country. Conversely in terms of population it has the lowest number of people, just fewer than eight million. The province is bordered by Afghanistan to the north and north-west, Iran to the south-west, the Arabian Sea to the south, Punjab and Sindh to the east, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the north-east. The capital city, which is the largest in the province, is Quetta

In 1947 the ruler of Balochistan agreed to join Pakistan on the condition that the defence, currency, foreign office and finance would be controlled by the federal government but that the province would remain otherwise autonomous. However, after death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah Balochistan, along with other princely states was merged into Pakistan. Since then a small group of Baloch nationalists have been in conflict with the Federal Government which has led to an endless series of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings; the vast majority of which the government of Pakistan has turned a blind eye to.

Balochistan is rich in natural resources including gold and copper, a fact that the government of Pakistan, and the military, has been quick to take advantage of.

The Frontier Corps (FC), one of the paramilitary forces of Pakistan is based in Peshawar, North West Frontier Province and Quetta, Balochistan and is responsible for protecting the western border regions. Responsible to both the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions and to Army Headquarters the FC comprises of fourteen units based in the North-West Frontier and sixteen units based in Balochistan. It is believed that the FC is allegedly responsible for the vast majority of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that take place in Balochistan. It is also an established fact that they have torture cells in all the major towns and cities. This is borne out by a large number of reports and appeals issued by human rights bodies. 

Most of the killings carried out by the FC occur after the enforced disappearances of students, activists and others. The victims are taken in broad daylight from public places in full view of passers-by, often the abductors are accompanied by police officials. When the family members attempt to file First Information Reports at the police stations the officers refuse to record them due to the involvement of the FC. The victim's families are then forced to go to the courts who then order the army to respond to the charges. However, showing their complete contempt for the civilian establishment the army never complies. What happens next though is that once they know that the courts and the public are fully aware that the disappeared person is in their custody they get rid of the evidence by extrajudicially killing the victim and dumping his body on the road side. The number of such killings is estimated to be in the region of 400 for this year alone. However, nationalist groups claim that up to 8,000 persons have been disappeared. There are also reliable reports that 141 children and 315 women who have gone missing are being held or used as labourers in military camps. 

Just one example of the enforced disappearances is the case of Mr. Fareed Ahmed Baloch, the son of Haleem Ahmed Balcoh. Fareed Baloch, a final year student of the Balochistan Engineering and Technology University, was abducted from outside the check post of Frontier Corps (FC) at Sariab road, Quetta, capital of the province, on February 9 after 6 pm when he was travelling with his cousin in a three wheeler. He was stopped at the check point by the FC persons along with some persons who were in plain clothes and taken away in a jeep with no registration number. His cousin, Mr. Changez Gichki, tried to intervene and was severely beaten and his cell phone was also snatched along with his wallet. Fareed Baloch was the president of Baloch Students Organisation (BSO-Azad) of district Khuzdar, Balochistan. Since then his abduction by the FC his whereabouts are unknown.

Sadly, as mentioned above it is increasingly difficult to lodge an FIR with the police because they know full well who is behind the abduction. To make matter worse the families of the victims get little relief from the courts. For example, on April 13, 2011 the three member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan under the supervision of Justice Javaid Iqbal heard cases of missing persons. Family members of victims whose loved ones were allegedly abducted by state agencies came before the court and provided the details of their cases. The simple fact is that the officers of the FC do not bother to attend court because they have no fear of judicial action being taken against them.

The relatives of the disappeared persons pointed out to the court that they were tired of testifying before judicial bodies as no apparent results had been seen. They also announced that they would not record their statements in future and that, to their knowledge, others would do the same as it was becoming increasingly evident that the judicial bodies set up to investigate enforced disappearances were simply 'going through the motions'.

The enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings are the responsibility of the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. As head of the state and chief executive there can be no one else to take responsibility for what goes on in his country. Calls for the government to bring the military to heel go unheeded and unless and until the government takes a firm stand these atrocities will continue. President Zardari's policy of appeasement towards the military will not save him if the armed forces decide that his usefulness has come to an end. Pakistan has suffered most of the 62 years of its existence under military dictatorships. Unless the government wants to find itself unemployed it must clamp down on abuses by the military in general and the Frontier Corps in particular. Only then will the human rights abuses, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan and other provinces of the country come to an end.

Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar should understand that not mentioning a problem does not mean that the problem does not exist.


Stewart Sloan may be contacted at  

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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