Disturbing testimony gathered by human-rights workers has drawn attention to the untold numbers of people being detained, tortured and “disappeared” by Pakistan’s security forces in Balochistan province.
The activists say such incidents of torture and extra-judicial killing have continued since the election of a civilian government three years ago.
Dragged away, handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and almost never told why they have been seized, dozens of people have been hit with sticks or leather belts, hung upside down or deprived of food or sleep. The people doing it rarely identify themselves.
Many of those seized are activists seeking independence or autonomy for the province, in the west and south-west of the country.
Bashir Azeem, a member of the Baloch Republican Party, was seized in 2005, 2006 and 2009. He told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that he had been questioned, threatened and tortured.
“They pushed pins under my nails, put a chair on my back and sat on top of it, and put me for 48 hours into a room where I could only stand but not move,” he said. “When they took me out, my legs were so swollen that I collapsed on the floor and fainted.”
In a report based on interviews with more than 100 people, HRW says that while hundreds have disappeared since 2005, there have been dozens of cases since the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government came to power in 2008. The report details 45 cases of alleged disappearances.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province, covering almost half the country. Yet it is sparsely populated and is a place where human-rights abuses have long been overlooked or ignored.
For years, the security forces have targeted groups seeking independence for the oil-rich region. Scores of activists and political leaders have been assassinated or seized because of their actual, or suspected, actions. Others have been targeted because of their tribal affiliations.
“Pakistan’s security forces are engaging in an abusive free-for-all in Balochistan as Baloch nationalists and suspected militants disappear and in many cases are executed,” Brad Adams, the Asia director of HRW, said. “The national government has done little to end the carnage in Balochistan, calling into question its willingness or ability to control the military and intelligence agencies.
“Pakistani security services are brazenly disappearing, torturing, and often killing people because of suspected ties to the Baloch nationalist movement. This is not counter-insurgency, it is barbarism and it needs to end now.”
Many abuses were perpetrated in Balochistan by troops, paramilitaries and the intelligence agencies during the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, and in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11. A veteran leader of the independence movement, Nawab Akbar Bugti, was killed and many of his supporters were jailed or else killed.
The report details the case of Nasibullah Langao, 14, and Abdul Waheed, 12, who were taken away by the Frontier Corps. They vanished after seeking information about the killing of the 14-year-old’s uncle a few days earlier.
Andrew Buncombe, The Independent