Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

PAKISTAN: ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Feared in Balochistan

Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Jun 23 2011 (IPS) - The pain and anger in 25-year-old Rukhsana Langho’s voice could be heard over the telephone line from Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, 700 kms north of the port city of Karachi. “We hate Pakistan and we want freedom,” she says, bitter over the disappearance of her brother more than a year ago.

Demonstration at the Quetta Press Club. Credit: The Baloch Hal

Demonstration at the Quetta Press Club. Credit: The Baloch Hal

Men believed to be part of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency abducted 35-year-old Mir Ghaffar Langho in Karachi on Dec. 11, 2009. He has been missing since then. “His wife and daughter were with him when he was picked up, blindfolded, pushed into a car and taken away,” says Langho.

Mir Ghaffar Langho is among the 14,000 Baloch men who have gone missing over the past decade. “If you see the way our 160 martyred brothers have been tortured, you’d be ashamed to call yourself a Pakistani too,” she says.

Langho was referring to the mutilated corpses of students, teachers, political workers, rights activists, singers, poets, labourers, and shopkeepers that have been turning up in threes and fours every few days for the last ten months. Their skulls have been drilled, eyes pulled out from sockets, limbs snapped or sliced; some have been singed and seared beyond recognition.

These men are the “cream of Baloch society,” the latest targets in what is believed to be “ethnic cleansing” committed by the Pakistani government, says Malik Siraj Akbar, a young Baloch journalist who is alarmed at the scale of the killings.

Akbar says the modus operandi is always the same. “Men, between 20 and 40, usually staunch nationalists, are picked up from a public place in broad daylight by armed people, intelligence men in uniform and in plainclothes,” he says. “Of late the bodies that have been found dumped have chits on them with the name of the dead and a remark saying ‘It’s an Eid gift,’ or ‘This is what happens to a Hindustani agent (an Indian spy)’,” he says.

The military has denied the charges and says militants posing as members of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps (FC), a paramilitary force, are behind the abductions and killings. But Balochistan’s chief minister Aslam Raisani said in a BBC interview in November 2010 that Pakistan’s security agencies were “definitely” behind the abductions and killings.

Mineral-rich Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, makes up 43 percent of the country’s land mass. It was an independent state until 1947, when Pakistan annexed its eastern side and Iran its western side.

The Baloch people now want freedom from Pakistan, and have taken up arms and turned militant. Yet they lack leaders to deliver them from the chaos. In this mayhem, criminal elements have joined in and are making hay.

The disappearances started in 2001 during former president Pervez Musharraf’s rule, but the issue really surfaced in 2004-2005, when mothers, sisters and wives started coming out, protesting and talking about it collectively, recalls 27-year old Akbar, editor of the online newspaper, The Baloch Hal, which was blocked last November by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.

He said his publication is one of the few remaining Baloch voices calling for reconciliation and dialogue, and describes himself as “a realist, not an idealist.”

Everyday after school, Rukhsana Langho comes to the Quetta Press Club (QPC) to take part in a sit-in started almost a year back by a group called Voice for the Baloch Missing Persons.

Its vice chairman is 62-year-old Qadeer Baloch whose son, Jaleel Reki, was picked up while he was on his way home from prayers on Feb. 13, 2009. “People who saw him taken away say uniformed men of the Frontier Corps and men in plainclothes came and whisked him away.

“My son was politically inclined and was fighting for the rights of the Baloch people,” says the father, who himself has been receiving threats to stop his campaign. Having lived and worked all his life as a Pakistani in Balochistan, he says, “I’ve never seen so much hatred for Pakistan in my life.

“The situation is really bad here, and if something is not done soon, there will be no turning back,” he says over the phone from Quetta. In schools today, he says, no one dares sing the national anthem or hoist the Pakistani flag.

All complaints lodged with the police against the spy agencies by the families of the missing have been in vain. Even the Supreme Court, while holding the military and its spy intelligence men accountable, has failed to recover the missing.

According to Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the Supreme Court has been hearing HRCP’s petition on missing persons since February 2007, and since then, close to 300 have returned home. However, says Yusuf, disappearances have continued and the missing people whose bodies are found “often bear marks of torture.”

The government has also set up a judicial commission on missing persons but “it is not very effective and people don’t have much confidence in it,” Yusuf says.

While Langho and Baloch live each day hoping to hear good news, there are many, like 18-year old Nauroz Baloch, who have stopped going to the QPC. “My brother Abid Baloch’s body was found three weeks back,” he says. Abid had been shot in the eye and heart at point blank range.

Similarly, when 40-year-old Safir Baloch’s mutilated body was found, it had acid burns. “His body and the body parts of his two friends had been buried at a construction site and accidentally discovered while the place was being dug up,” says his sister Sheema. “Even animals are not tortured the way my brother was.”

While the country’s attention remains focused on the war on terror, the atrocities committed against the Balochis in their mineral-rich province since 2000 have been of little interest to the rest of Pakistan, says Sheema Baloch. “When we screamed and pleaded for help, the media looked the other way. Now it’s too late,” she says.

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