Baloch resistance grows as atrocities by Pakistani forces continue
Balochistan, one of the highly unstable regions in the world, is experiencing a new wave of unrest following the renewed allegations of military suppression and unfair treatment by the Pakistan government. In a big embarrassment for the new Shehbaz Sharif government, members of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) boycotted the National Assembly proceedings on the very first day. Pakistani security forces had opened fire at unarmed, innocent Baloch people, killing six. People who protested the killings the next day too were shot at. Since then, Balochistan is on a boil. The region is witnessing protests and acts of retaliation by the armed groups that are fighting for the rights of the Baloch people.
The National Assembly was rocked by the protests over the recent incident of extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani Army in Balochistan’s Chagai. “The cheapest thing available in the country right now is the blood of the Baloch people,” said Hassan Baloch, a BNP-M senator. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif accepted that fact about excesses in Balochistan. But he refused to blame the army, and rather justified the killings saying the military “institution is fulfilling its duties”.
People of Balochistan have been blaming successive governments in Islamabad, which had been mostly dominated by the leaders from Punjab and Sindh, for the oppression and genocide. Unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and denial of basic rights are major concerns for the Baloch people. Prime Minister Sharif expressed his inability to act in the recent Chagai killings case and told agitated Baloch people that he would raise the issue with “powerful quarters”— an indirect reference to Pakistan’s Army.
The diminishing hope of justice angered the Baloch people, resulting in a teacher named Shari Baloch blowing herself up along with four other people to avenge the Chagai killings. She hailed from a well-off family. She has two children, both just five-year-old. Her husband is a dentist and professor. When a woman like Shari Baloch, who appeared to be living a decent life, carries out a suicide bombing, it explains what Baloch people are going through, said Naela Quadri Baloch, the President of the World Baloch Women’s Forum. Naela said Baloch youths were turning to self-sacrifices as they were harassed and prevented from progressing by Pakistan’s Army and spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Statistics and surveys too suggest that Balochistan is far behind on many human development parameters compared to other provinces in Pakistan. Pakistan government’s survey on the social and living standards of 2019-20 showed that the situation of education in Balochistan was extremely dismal as compared to other provinces. The literacy rate in Balochistan was just 44 per cent while the national average literacy rate in Pakistan was 60 per cent. Similarly, the living standard score of Balochistan was the lowest among all provinces.
Maulana Abdul Haq Hashmi, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Balochistan, held Pakistan’s Army responsible for the injustice, torture and suffering of the Baloch people. “Balochistan suffers from feelings of injury, reaction, and revenge,” he said. “This is incompetence, negligence, and failure of the federal government and the provincial government along with other forces.” It has led to the formation of some militant groups, which seek to avenge the atrocities by attacking Pakistani military personnel and its infrastructure.
Leaders in Pakistan now are realizing how worse the Balochistan problem has become. “It will be a disaster if, instead of reaching out and applying balm on wounds of Baloch, they are hounded”, said Farhatullah Babar, secretary general of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is an ally in the Sharif-led government. However, the civilian government can do very little to solve the problem. Pakistan’s security forces call the shots in every important matter. Their ways to address concerns or control dissent in Balochistan are brutal such as extrajudicial abductions, custodial deaths and enforced disappearances.
The highest number of enforced disappearances in 2021 were reported from Balochistan. It was 1,108. In 2020, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) lamented the Pakistan government for failing to ensure justice for the familes of victims or to hold accountable a single perpetrator of the crime of enforced disappearance. The ICJ reported 6,752 cases of enforced disappearance till September 2020, which had the involvement of security forces.
There are repeated calls made by human rights organisations to take steps to stop atrocities against the people of Balochistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has repeatedly asked the Pakistan government to take steps and criminalise enforced disappearance to protect freedom of expression and rights of vulnerable and excluded groups. However, none of the governments in Islamabad dared to act against the powerful military.