Army targeting Baloch students raises spectre of violence
The Pakistan Army’s hit teams are on a ruthless campaign to target young Baloch students, studying in various parts of the country, to brutally suppress the growing wave of protest among the young and restless in the Baloch community.
In the past few months, over 48 Baloch students were jumped upon by anonymous armed men, at home and outside their colleges, assaulted, their phones snatched away and bundled into big, un-numbered vehicles. All of them were mercilessly beaten up in secret cells, hung upside down and kept hungry for days. The lucky ones returned brutalised, silenced but alive. Rest disappeared.
According to various estimates, over 5000 Baloch men and women have `disappeared` in the last few years. Of these, there has been an alarming rise in the number of young university students in the recent past. In fact, after a suicide bombing outside Karachi University which killed three Chinese nationals in April this year, there had been sudden spurt of crackdown on Baloch students across the country. Several students, living in hostels and other residences across Karachi, were picked up in several swoops, tortured and detained in secret cells. Only a few have since returned.
The sudden rise in the disappearance of Baloch students and others is caused by Chinese anxieties about the mega-million projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The Chinese have demanded an immediate end to attacks on their citizens and the projects that run through Balochistan. The local Baloch are up in arms against the CPEC projects which threaten to snatch their livelihood and change the demographics of their homeland. With the Pakistan Army assuring the Chinese about security in Balochistan, the assaults on young and older Baloch men and women are likely to see an unprecedented rise in the coming days.
Another reason for the Army’s cycle of suppression on Baloch people is to stem a new leadership of the people emerging from the ranks of university students. The Pakhtun student leaders had put tremendous pressure on the army in the recent years on similar issues of disappearances and assaults. The Pakhtun people nurse strong opposition to the army’s brutal unleashing of military might on the Pakhtun people and their homeland under the garb of `war on terrorism`. The Generals want to avoid a similar confrontation with Baloch university students in the near future.
Such has been the army’s ruthless campaign against Baloch students that the Pakistan Human Rights Commission in June this year strongly condemned the “the recent cycle of abductions and manhandling of Baloch students“. Referring to the abduction of students from Karachi University, the commission pointed out that these students were “allegedly being picked up by law enforcement personnel, and those who demand their release are roughed up and arrested“ Such enforced disappearances, the commission decried were not not only illegal but inhuman.
The Army had launched an all-out war against Baloch people after veteran Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti had opposed President Pervez Musharraf’s furious anti-Baloch campaign after a Baloch woman accused a serving Major of raping her. Bugti and several others were killed in an unprecedented military offensive ordered by Musharraf which included use of combat jets and artillery guns. Years later, the Islamabad High Court Chief Justice lamented that “As already noted, the phenomenon appears to be an undeclared policy of the State as was acknowledged by one of the former Chief Executives, General (Retd) Musharraf, in his autobiography, “In the Line of Fire”.
Many in the civil society believe that the army’s policy of isolating and suppressing its own people from Balochistan could create a situation similar to the late 60s when Pakistan carried out a brutal wave of suppression against Bengali Muslims on the issue of language and ended up losing East Pakistan. The savage campaign of repression against Baloch students could prove to be Pakistan’s Bangladesh mistake.