The News on Sunday (TNS): How does HRW view the current state of human rights in Balochistan?
Ali Dayan Hasan (ADH): 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. Illegal detention, torture, disappearances and targeted killings by the military are commonplace. Abuses by nationalist militants are also on the rise. It is an appalling situation and the great losers in this are the long-suffering people of the province.
TNS: Your report on attacks on education in Balochistan was criticised by the nationalists as focusing too much on the issues of settlers. What was the reason for highlighting that?
ADH: Human rights protections should be enjoyed by all. Abuses by the state do not allow others license to abuse in turn. It is our view 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. Even if Baloch nationalists do not recognise the sovereignty of Pakistani state, they are still committing war crimes by attacking non-combatants and they should fully expect and receive censure and condemnation. And 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.
TNS: During insurgencies, human rights are at risk. Do you think that Pakistan government can carry out its anti-insurgency operations without use of force?
ADH: No one is suggesting that the writ of the state should be compromised. Rather, it should be enforced in a rights-respecting manner in accordance with laws and bearing in mind the constitutional protections that must extend to every Pakistani citizen regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity.
TNS: What is HRW's assessment of external involvement, especially in terms of providing arms/financing to separatist groups who target civilians?
ADH: We understand that the government of Pakistan argues that external actors, especially India and Afghanistan, are involved in fomenting unrest and abuse in Balochistan. Even if that is the case, it does not mean that the Pakistani state can abuse the Baloch or violate their rights by way of retaliation. Besides, HRW and others have repeatedly asked the government to bring any evidence to back up these claims into the public domain. So far, nothing meaningful has been offered.
TNS: What is the HRW's stance on missing persons in Pakistan, especially Balochistan?
ADH: Enforced disappearances remain a serious, widespread, and ongoing problem in Balochistan and HRW has documented such abuses by the intelligence agencies and the FC in the province. Those we interviewed for a forthcoming report on disappearances perpetrated by military authorities in the province live in extreme fear of the military. The interviews had to be conducted in secret locations outside the province. We will be releasing a detailed reported in the coming weeks on these disappearances and we expect answers from the government and a serious attempt to hold those guilty of these abuses accountable.
TNS: Is there sufficient international and domestic focus on human rights situation in Balochistan?
ADH: Unfortunately there is not. The Pakistani media does not report on the brutal realities of Balochistan in any meaningful manner. Despite the fact that the province is of great strategic interest to the world, 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 time Pakistanis and the world paid attention.
Ali Dayan Hasan is a senior researcher in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch