Incidents of enforced disappearance of locals at the hands of the Pakistani forces have not decreased and many times such cases are not reported or recorded.
New Delhi: A fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has confirmed international media reports that have been focusing on the deteriorating situation in Balochistan, which Pakistan has denied till now.
The report titled, “Balochistan: Neglected Still” has found that the incidents of enforced disappearance of locals at the hands of the Pakistani forces, including that of women, have not decreased and many times such cases are not reported or recorded. The HRCP’s investigation has also revealed that the presence of a massive number of army personnel in the region has rendered the civilian administration useless. It has found how educational institutions have been taken over by the Pakistan army for accommodation purpose.
The HRCP team had visited Balochistan between 19 and 24 August 2019 to conduct a fact-finding mission to assess the state of human rights in Balochistan.
The major findings of the HRCP fact-finding mission are:
University has been turned into barracks and interrogation centre
The mission visited the Balochistan University in Quetta and met with members of the faculty and students on campus. The mission was told that there were around 10,000 students associated with the university. However, HRCP was perturbed to learn that the university had been declared the FC’s (Frontier Corps, paramilitary force of Pakistan) zonal Headquarter—the FC has been present at the university since 2016. At any given time, HRCP learnt that there are between 400 and 700 FC personnel deployed at the university.
The mission was also informed that the FC was using the official living quarters of the Vice-Chancellor (VC) on the university premises. The university’s sports complex has been turned into an interrogation cell. The hostels are manned by FC personnel and students are compelled to undergo security checks every time they enter the hostel.
Over the years, about 10 university teachers and members of the administration have been killed in different incidents of violence. Several teachers and students complained that CCTV cameras had also been installed in different locations on the campus.
They allege that while these cameras have been installed to improve campus security, the footage is used to invade the privacy of students and faculty. If, for instance, male and female students are found interacting, they are blackmailed by elements within the university’s administration.
According to the students who met the mission on campus, no major sports events have been organised at the university for the last 10 or 11 years. Students who are involved in any political activities or are part of political parties’ student wings are harassed by the university administration and are not allowed to organise any political or cultural activities on campus.
There is a general feeling of resentment whereby teachers claim they are “summoned” by army officials to their offices and occasionally “humiliated”, although it is not clear on what grounds. Similarly, some portions of the building of the Technical College in Turbat have been taken over by the military.
Many students felt that poor governance had built sympathy for nationalist dissidents and that people were losing trust in parliamentary politics.
Students told the fact-finding mission that enforced disappearances and the recovery of mutilated bodies had encouraged people to take up arms against security forces. Indeed, some students felt that the Baloch were facing the same treatment that was meted out to the Bengalis in the 1960s, and feared grim repercussions. Some students claimed it had become near-impossible to speak up against alleged atrocities by state agencies against the local population for fear of enforced disappearances—including those of their family members. Meanwhile, the mainstream media has remained silent on this issue.
No medical facilities
The district headquarter (DHQ) hospital in Gwadar does not have specialist doctors, including a gynecologist, a pediatrician and a cardiologist.
The medical superintendent (MS) of the hospital told HRCP’s mission that locals are still not qualified to serve in these posts, whereas qualified doctors from elsewhere are reluctant to serve in Balochistan at all, given the prevailing sense of insecurity and lack of facilities such as access to proper residential quarters and education for family members. The medical facility does not have even the basic medical equipment needed to conduct tests such as MRIs and CT scans. The hospital’s CBC machine (used to measure blood count) is defective and has evidently not been repaired in years.
Every patient suffering from a complicated health issue is referred either to Karachi or Quetta after being provided first aid. Essentially, the DHQ has become merely a first-aid facility. The hospital building was in a deplorable condition.
“The practice of enforced disappearances has not stopped. The mission was told that four individuals, including a 10-12-year-old child, were picked up from Turbat recently. The child is yet to be recovered. In most cases, local police stations in such areas refuse to lodge a first information report (FIR).”
Alarmingly, in Turbat, the fact-finding mission was made aware of concerns that security agencies were using criminal elements involved in drug-related crimes to “disappear” people. The HRCP visited a camp set up for missing persons adjacent to the Press Club in Quetta and met rights activist Mama Qadeer and the families of missing persons.
A disconcerting trend is that of women being “disappeared” in certain areas, such as Dera Bugti and Awaran. Yet these cases tend not to be reported or recorded, least of all by the mainstream media. The numbers they cite are unsettling. Mama Qadeer claims that around 47,000 Baloch and around 35,000 Pashtuns are “missing”. The missing Pashtuns include people who have been “disappeared” from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Many family members shared stories of how their loved ones has been abducted and not heard from since. The duration of an enforced disappearance varies. In many cases, people have been missing for years—in some instances, for up to 18 years. It is worth noting that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, which issues a monthly press release and records brief details of the number of cases pending before the Commission as well as missing persons that have been recovered, claims that Balochistan has the least number of missing persons (at the time of writing this report).
Persecution of minority Hindus
Complaints of forced conversions are not as common in Balochistan as elsewhere, but there have been some such cases in the Hindu community. There are about 100 Hindu families settled in Gwadar, most of whom migrated from Sindh in the hope of finding work in Gwadar. A minority union councillor who met the mission said that Hindu children were still taught Islamic Studies at school. The community has been targeted several times. In 2009, a hand grenade was thrown at the house of a community member, killing two children. In 2013, another house belonging to a Hindu resident was targeted, killing two people. The perpetrators have not been traced. Lack of space for burial grounds for Christians and shamshan (cremation) ghats for Hindus is another serious matter that requires urgent attention from the government authorities.
Censorship of media
Several journalists met the HRCP’s mission in Quetta and Gwadar to share their concerns about increasing censorship in the province. They alleged that it was increasingly impossible to report on “real” issues in Balochistan in the prevailing atmosphere, with the underlying threat of abduction or even death for reporters who might be deemed to have “crossed the line”. They said there were restrictions on Balochi news publications: media houses were forced to submit dummies and refrain from circulating newspapers or magazines in Balochi.
Presence of a massive number of armed forces and the resultant harassment of locals
“A chief concern among the political activists and leaders of the region was the constant sense of intimidation effected by security forces and agencies, for example, in the shape of numerous security check-posts. Respondents were also aggravated by the large proportion of Balochistan’s provincial budget that is allocated to security, and channelled through the Frontier Corps (FC). This has stalled development works in the province: health and education, for instance, do not appear to be a priority,” says the HRCP report.
The local political parties also spoke about the growing influence of the drug mafia in Balochistan. They allege that the FC and security agencies have patronised the drug mafia and were using them as a political extension. They claimed that individuals with strong ties to the drug mafia were elected to the provincial assembly in the 2018 elections, with support from the security agencies.
“Almost all the political parties HRCP spoke to expressed their reservations about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Baloch nationalist parties view CPEC as a way for the state to enable the influx of foreigners into Balochistan, displacing local populations and depriving them of any viable opportunities that the CPEC projects might offer. There are also concerns about the future of the people of Gwadar, given that the port city is central to CPEC. At the time of writing this report, no CPEC-related project had been launched in Turbat. The impression is that the former Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik, and his government were pressured into agreement on CPEC to prove that the people of Balochistan were on board with the project’s terms and conditions. However, the people of the province feel they have yet to see any benefits accruing from CPEC and are not aware of the details of its projects or objectives,” the HRCP report reads.