NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission conducted a fact-finding mission in Balochistan in August this year in the wake of reports of enforced disappearances, targeting of the minority Shia Hazara community, curbs on basic freedoms and the shrinking space for civil society organisations. SNI was able to access some of the key findings of the report they published.
The report said political parties in the province described last year’s general election as “marked by fear and rampant horse trading”. The report questioned the democratic credentials of the current government given the role of security forces against the democratic process including the manipulation of elections to help pro-establishment candidates.
The report named the Frontier Corps (FC), intelligence agencies and other security forces as acting in favour of the ruling Balochistan Awami Party, which appeared to be a front for these agencies. The FC’s powers tended to undermine the control of the provincial government.
Enforced disappearances were widespread with victims’ families afraid of communicating their cases to the authorities. Around 47,000 Baloch and 35,000 Pashtuns are missing. Among the more infamous accusations levelled against the state security apparatus is the dumping of mutilated bodies of various persons. The report noted with concern that there was a trend of women disappearing in the Baloch belt of Dera Bugti and Awaran and most of these cases were neither reported nor recorded.
There is proof of the role of security agencies and forces profiting from the operation of illegal coal mines. They are levying a charge per every ton of coal mined. This is illegal and is extortion but mine owners are helpless.
The report cited concern about the presence of the Taliban in Balochistan. The presence of such a militant outfit was deemed not possible without the “patronage of state institutions”. The report referred to the attack of August 16 in Kuchlak near Quetta where the brother of Afghan Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada was killed.
Almost all political parties the fact finding mission met complained of the news blackout by mainstream media of developments in their province. They alleged that the “political narrative is controlled by state institutions and voices supporting democracy and human rights and social justice are not given any space”.
In particular, the fact finding mission took note of the targeting of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, notably the killing of its leader Arman Loni by a policeman during a protest in Loralai in February. Pashtun leaders and MPs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir are under arrest, adding to the anger within the movement.
Political parties also told the fact finding mission that the FC and security agencies were patronizing the drugs mafia. They claimed that in last year’s provincial assembly elections, candidates with links to the drug mafia were elected. The FC uses the drug mafia for its own agenda, as in July this year when opposition rallies were deliberately obstructed by drug gangs. People from Pishin and Killa Abdullah faced armed gangs blocking roads and highways.
Almost all parties expressed their reservations about the China-funded CPEC projects. Baloch nationalist parties say CPEC was to enable foreigners to enter the province displacing the local population. There was concern about the future of the people of Gwadar, once the port project starts coming up. The sense is the former government of Dr Abdul Malik was forced to accept the CPEC project. Local people are yet to see any benefits accruing from CPEC.
Hindus and Christians live in a state of insecurity even though attacks on them have diminished. Complaints of forced conversion are not as common in Balochistan as in other parts of Pakistan, nevertheless some cases of Hindu girls being abducted and converted are known. There are around 100 Hindu families in Gwadar, mostly settlers from Sindh. The last known attack on Hindus was in 2013 when two members of the community died. The perpetrators were never found.
The condition of the Shia Hazara community is pitiable with the commission reporting that they are “persecuted to the point that it has been virtually ghettoised in Quetta”. Targeted killings have taken a major toll on the community, and while these have decreased, the community lives with fear. Government authorities are known to routinely ask members of the community to prove that they are Pakistanis and have not emigrated from Afghanistan. The community believes this is evidence of systemic discrimination.