By Hamid Yazdan Panah
In January of 2014, a mass grave with more than 160 bodies was discovered in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. The mass graves are just the latest example of the human rights abuses faced by the Baloch living in Iran and Pakistan. Yet this crisis has elicited very little reaction from the international community.
The Baloch are an ethnic group who reside in the lands between southwestern Pakistan, southeastern Iran and a very small section of southwestern Afghanistan.
Following the independence of Pakistan in 1948, Baloch leaders stated a clear intent to remain independent of Pakistan and maintain their cultural heritage and identity. Pakistan’s response was to use military force to secure accession, and as a result decades of conflict have continued.
The present day struggle for independence in Balochistan can be viewed as a continuation of the ongoing guerrilla struggle against the Pakistani state since 1948. This struggle has spilled over into Iran over the last few decades as with many Baloch feeling disenfranchised by the Islamic Republic.
Pakistan’s Kill & Dump Policy
Throughout the Pakistani province of Balochistan, hundreds of ethnic Baloch have been abducted by Pakistani Security forces and killed while in custody, with their bodies dumped shortly thereafter- in what has been been widely referred to as the ‘Kill and Dump’ policy. Often times the bodies of the slain bear marks of brutal torture and mutilation.
The ‘Kill and Dump’ policy began under the rule of President Pervez Musharraf, but has continued under the current government. The policy focuses on the detainment of Baloch activists, holding them incommunicado for days or even weeks during which they are subjected to torture, interrogation and execution. Upon killing the men in custody, authorities dump the bodies of their victims, sending a brutal message to the Baloch community. The extrajudicial detainment and execution allows for authorities to escape all forms of oversight, legal standards, or accountability.
In a 2012 briefing, Amnesty International noted, “According to our own research at least 249 Baloch activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers have disappeared or been murdered between 24 October 2010 and 10 September 2011 alone, many in so-called ‘kill and dump’ operations.” The advocacy group, Voice for Missing Baloch, has estimated that 8,000 people have been kidnapped over the past nine years, with 1,500 individual bodies having been recovered.
The impunity given to security forces and the lack of recourse for family members has left Baloch citizens with no one to turn to for justice. Those who do try to pursue the cases of their loved ones are often threatened with additional violence and the risk becoming targets themselves.
The feeling of helplessness and despair is captured perfectly in Declan Walsh’s article for the Guardian, describing the case of Abdul Rahim from Khuzdar,
“He produces court papers detailing the abduction of his son Saadullah in 2009. First he went to the courts but then his lawyer was shot dead. Then he went to the media but the local press club president was killed. Now, Rahim says, “nobody will help in case they are targeted too. We are hopeless.”
For the families of the slain, the pain of losing a loved one to such a brutal death is only made worse by the inaction of authorities. The inability for Baloch to receive any form of due process while in custody, or any effective judicial remedies, serves to delegitimize the authority of the Pakistani government. As a result of this impunity, Baloch citizens continue to reject the policies of Islamabad as corrupt and unjust.
Disenfranchisement & Inequality
Not only do the Baloch face state violence and discrimination, but also deep-seated economic inequality.
Sistan-Balochistan, is Iran’s poorest province, and not coincidentally it is also home to the majority of Iran’s Baloch population. The Shia government in Iran has consistently discriminated against the Sunni Baloch. Ethnic discrimination includes the inability for Baloch to study in their native language, as well as a lack of political representation in governmental positions.
Iran has also used the military conflicts in Afghanistan as a pretext to install army garrisons, resulting in the militarization Sistan-Balochistan, and ongoing clashes between the Baloch and Iranian security forces.
There continue to be serious allegations against Iran’s security forces in Balochistan, including mass arrests, harassment and intimidation and the execution of innocent Baloch civilians. To date the Baloch minority remain one of most marginalized groups in Iran, with a very high incarceration and execution rate.
The Baloch face similar problems in Pakistan. Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, and given its natural resources and strategic position, arguably its most important. Yet it is also Pakistan’s poorest province, with 52 percent of households living below the poverty line, according to a poverty survey carried out by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Baloch nationalist groups have highlighted the continuous extraction of natural resources, especially natural gas, from their lands without discernible economic benefit for the Baloch people. This also includes vast amounts of mineral wealth, as well as the construction of a major port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province,.
Invisible to the World
There remain serious obstacles in regards to uncovering the ongoing abuses against the Baloch in Iran and Pakistan. The most immediate obstacle is the censorship of the press.
According to journalist Declan Walsh, “The Balochistan story is one of the most difficult to cover in Pakistan,” he told Al Jazeera. “The authorities don’t like foreign journalists entering the province unaccompanied and rarely give permission.”
This week a prominent journalist in Pakistan who covered Balochistan was shot by gunmen as he was driving in Karachi, his family blamed on government forces.
Additional factors include the lack of resources, training and support for Baloch journalists and human rights activist who hope to cover domestic issues. Other are simply too afraid to break the silence. Many of these Baloch feel a sense of betrayal by the international community.
Malik Siraj Akbar is a Baloch writer and the editor of the first online newspaper in English on Balochistan’s issues. Speaking with Al Jazeera, Akbar expressed frustration over the lack of attention given the conflict in Balochistan.
Citing the recent discovery of more than 100 bodies in a mass grave reported by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Akbar complained:
“It’s outrageous: The mainstream national media has systematically snubbed the story. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have not issued statements.”
“There is widespread anger among us, the Baloch, and those who believe in human rights, over such brutal acts — as well as over the silence of the Pakistani government authorities and the media. Unfortunately, all this comes as no surprise for us.”