May 20, 2014

Balochistan - Denials and Silences

By ANI | ANI – 7 hours ago

New Delhi, May 20 (ANI): There is now a library in a girls' Islamic school in Islamabad that has been named after Osama bin Laden. Elsewhere in Islamabad, a mosque has been named after Mumtaz Qadri, who shot and killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer three years ago.

Taseer's son remains in captivity of terrorists for two years now. Authorities in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa have removed chapters on Bacha Khan (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) the noted Pakhtoon leader and his poet son, Ghani Khan from the history syllabus in schools.

Ghaffar Khan, an associate of Mahatma Gandhi and known as the Frontier Gandhi for his beliefs in non violence and his poet-philosopher son were presumably targets of radical elements.

Rashid Rehman Khan, a lawyer and human rights' activist, was shot dead in Multan on May 7 because he supported those accused of blasphemy while the mother of a young polio victim was gunned down by the Taliban in Karachi.

One of Pakistan's best known journalists, Hamid Mir survived six bullets pumped into him for daring to talk about missing persons of Balochistan despite being warned against doing this, while another journalist, Raza Rumi escaped an assassination attempt a few weeks ago. Bigotry and intolerance appear triumphant.

While there has been considerable commentary in Pakistan about what happened to Hamid Mir, there is silence about the fast unto death by a young Baloch Latif Johar who has been seeking the release of Zahid Baloch, Chairman of the Baloch Students' Organisation, who was abducted from Quetta on March 18, 2014.

Johar's statement announcing his fast is evocative. He said "I am a student. Studying, writing, learning, exploring are my hobbies. But all of this has become impossible for me, thanks to Pakistan. My friends disappear and end up dead, dumped on empty street-sides with blood-curdling scars on their bodies. My schools and colleges are turned into cozy military barracks. Uniformed men with guns surround the playground where school kids would circle not so long ago. Libraries closed and librarians 'missing,' they say." .... He adds "This quiet but peaceful struggle will continue till my last breath. I want to make it clear to the world that we strongly believe in a peaceful struggle which is why I am here willing to give up my own life for my nation rather than taking anyone else's."

Johar began his hunger strike on April 22 and his health is sinking but there has been no reaction from the authorities. There has bee hardly any coverage in the media barring one recent article in the Friday Times and he is not fasting in some remote part of Balochistan like Turbat or Kech but outside the Press Club.

The advisory that Hamid Mir had apparently not followed is being carefully observed by politicians, liberal thinkers and writers and all sections of the mainstream media. They are now more willing to talk about the girls that Boko Haram kidnapped in Nigeria than the Baloch boys that have disappeared, now believed tortured and killed.

The world also does not care but there are some expatriate Baloch who have carried out their campaign on the social media and accessible to all those interested in knowing what might be happening in Balochistan.

On any given day, there are heartrending stories and only the strong can see some of the photographs of torture and killings of the Baloch. Although Pakistan authorities have fairly succeeded in converting Balochistan into a virtual padded cell, some screams do make their way to the outside world.

There are a few exceptions to this global silence. For instance, in the preface to her book, 'The Wrong Enemy' Carlotta Gal says 'In Balochistan, where the Pakistani military was waging a dirty war against Baloch nationalist rebels, disappearances of journalists and political activists were common.

Hundreds of Baloch were missing or detained. Many turned up dead. Cases of extra-judicial killings by Pakistani security forces became so frequent from 2006 to 2013 that human rights organisations described the practice as "kill and dump." She goes on to say "The ISI in particular was responsible for picking and threatening local journalists all over the country...... "

The Baloch voice remains muted in Pakistan and Balochistan; the rest of the world is too engrossed in Iran, Syria and Ukraine; the only interest is to vacate Afghanistan and Pakistan must be humoured till that happens and Indians are far too self-engrossed to think of anything else but their own elections.

Besides we seem too defensive that talking about human rights abuses in our neighbourhood would tantamount interference. This goes to the extent of not even talking about what is happening to Hindu families in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. Even so, Baloch expatriates, the few that there are in Europe and Canada have been staging protests is Berlin, London and Toronto. In recent days one can discern that the number of protests are spreading inside Pakistan.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there have been 292 enforced disappearances from Makran since 2004 that could be confirmed. However, the figure could be as high as 500. As many as 100 were found tortured and dumped, 150 detainees were released while 48 were still missing in April 2014.

In 2013 as many as 116 bodies were found across Balochistan of which 87 were identified by families who accused Pakistan's security agencies of perpetrating these atrocities. Strong arm methods mostly by the Frontier Corps and the Army to control the insurgency in Balochistan including the killing of innocent Shia Hazaras by Sunni militants of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat, a.k.a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have added to the sectarian conflicts apart from the Punjabi- Baloch problems.

The present phase of insurgency has been gathering momentum after the murder of Akbar Khan Bugti in August 2006. A recent example of this was the bomb-attack on the Rawalpindi-bound train at Sibi in early April killing 17 and injuring 46 others.

Explosives had been used, gas cylinders aboard the train aggravated the destruction and three bogies were gutted. Meanwhile, an Army operation, backed by the PAF jets and helicopter gun ships, was launched in the Mashky region of Awaran district in May, killing at least ten Baloch. Pakistani forces abducted persons from Panjgur, Dera Bugti and from the outskirts of Quetta, according to Baloch sources.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, citing BBC reports, has also urged that there were military operations in April in different parts of Balochistan and in the aerial attacks, 100 innocent people, including women and children were killed.

Despite all these detailed reports about disappearances and killings being available, including the discovery of a mass grave of more than 100 bodies three months ago, there has been very infrequent and scanty coverage in the international press and none in the Indian press.

The level of distrust among the Baloch and Pakistan's rulers is so deep and the gulf between them so wide that many Baloch nationalists feel that any effort to bring peace between the Baloch and the Pakistani state must have international guarantors. For that to happen there has to be international interest in the plight of the Baloch.

The image that emerges is that of a country whose rulers are becoming increasingly autocratic, whose military systems control the media through ruthless means, whose society is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and Islamic.

There are increasing pressures from militant sectarian groups who also function against ethnic minorities. Simultaneously there is a perceptible weakening of the liberal class with nowhere to go and this has been brought out some courageous analysts, and eminent journalists in Pakistan.

It may be argued by some that the extremist radical element is only a fringe element but that is not how it looks from the outside when the State is unable to either militarily defeat the radicals who indulge in violence or unable to make peace with them on its terms.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood, Vice-President, Centre for International Relations, Observer Research Foundation.(ANI) By Vikram Sood(ANI)

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