Left to right: Husain Naqi, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); Ali Dayan Hasan, Human Rights Watch; Salima Hashmi, HRCP; and Kamran Arif, HRCP. The panel speaks at the launch of the Human Rights Watch report "'Their Future Is At Stake': Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan's Balochistan Province" held at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Islamabad, on December 13, 2010.

Courtesy: Dawn

Ali Dayan Hasan, Senior Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch, spoke with The Friday Times about violence in Balochistan.

Why did Human Rights Watch choose to do a report on Balochistan?

We chose to work on Balochistan because despite the fact that it is of great strategic interest to the world and Pakistan, its' people suffer from persistent, systemic and widespread human rights abuse both by state authorities and at the hands of non-state actors. It is high time the world paid attention to Balochistan's people who are caught between an abusive state and abusive local elites.

How difficult was it to collect data and conduct research in Balochistan?

A pervasive culture of abuse and a rapidly deteriorating security situation actually makes research in Balochistan extremely difficult. To educate or to seek education in Balochistan today means risking your life and your family's and those we interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity. Today, if you are a "settler", and many of these so-called "settler" families moved to the province as far back as the 1930s, you are a walking target. I should add that those we interviewed for a forthcoming report on disappearances perpetrated by military authorities in the province also live in extreme fear of the military. The latter interviews, in fact, had to be conducted in secret locations outside the province. The toxic mix of armed nationalist, sectarian and Taliban actors on the one hand and the trigger-happy military authorities on the other, makes Balochistan one of the most dangerous places in the world today.

But Baloch nationalist groups have criticized your report as one-sided and feel that it marginalizes what they view as a legitimate struggle against the state. How do you respond?

The initial reaction of some Baloch nationalists to the report on attacks on education has been disappointing. We have repeatedly stated that this is the first of two Human Rights Watch reports on Balochistan. The second report will document the involvement of Pakistan security forces in the enforced disappearances of ethnic Baloch in the province.

However, it is our position that Baloch nationalists, sectarian militants and Taliban groups have all been involved in attacks on education sector personnel. Whoever targets civilians on the basis of ethnicity is in effect engaging in a policy of ethnic cleansing and this is unacceptable and criminal period. The notion that you can legitimately engage in such acts as "retaliation" is nonsense. I do not know of a single instance of a teacher or professor or school administrator engaging in armed operations against Baloch nationalists or anyone else. Second, even if Baloch nationalists do not recognize the sovereignty of the Pakistani state, they are still committing war crimes by attacking non-combatants and they should fully expect the censure and condemnation not just from human rights organizations but from rights-respecting people and governments across the world.. Third, by perpetrating such atrocities, Baloch nationalists are harming Balochistan's development instead of advancing it and destroying the future of their land and its people. Finally, Balochistan is a multi-ethnic province where, despite tensions, until recently, different communities lived in harmony. It is a mistake for Baloch nationalists to think that by targeting civilians, they are expanding their operations against the state. This will marginalize the Baloch within Balochistan and, unless arrested, may turn out to be a historical blunder with bloody consequences. It would be much more useful if those identified as abusers in this report engaged in some sober reflection instead of seeking refuge in rhetoric.

What is your view of the role of state agencies in Balochistan?

We have long maintained that the Pakistani state, particularly the military and its intelligence agencies, has been extremely abusive in the province. We have documented numerous serious human rights violations by security forces, including large-scale enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, forced displacement, and excessive use of force against protesters. We have repeatedly and publicly called upon the Pakistani government to account for the disappeared and will be publishing a report in the spring that documents our findings. While the political government has made some effort to address grievances in the province, military intransigence and a failure of political will in the face of the same, has created a situation where the root causes of the conflict have remained unaddressed. Unless the military stops being an agent of abuse in Balochistan, there can be no sustainable peace.

Ali Dayan Hasan is a senior researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.