(New York) - Pakistan's government should immediately act to end the epidemic of killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the southwestern province of Balochistan, Human Rights Watch said today.
Across Balochistan since January 2011, at least 150 people have been abducted and killed and their bodies abandoned - acts widely referred to as "kill and dump" operations, in which Pakistani security forces engaged in counterinsurgency operations may be responsible. Assailants have also carried out targeted killings of opposition leaders and activists. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented enforced disappearances by Pakistan's security forces in Balochistan, including several cases in which those "disappeared" have been found dead. (See appendix.)
"The surge in unlawful killings of suspected militants and opposition figures in Balochistan has taken the brutality in the province to an unprecedented level," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should investigate all those responsible, especially in the military and Frontier Corps, and hold them accountable."
In the first 10 days of July, nine bullet-riddled bodies, several of them bearing marks of torture, were discovered in the province, Human Rights Watch said. On July 1, the body of Abdul Ghaffar Lango, a prominent Baloch nationalist activist, was found in an abandoned hotel in the town of Gadani, in the Lasbela district. The local police told the media that, "The body bore multiple marks of brutal torture." Lango had been abducted by men in civilian clothes in Karachi, in Sindh province, on December 11, 2009. When Lango's relatives tried to lodge a complaint about his abduction, the police refused to take it. An officer told the family that Lango had been detained because he was a BNP leader and that the "authorities" wanted to restrain him from participating in politics.
Hanif Baloch, an activist with the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad), was abducted from the town of Hub, Lasbela district, on July 4. His body was found in Mach, Bolan district on July 6, with three bullet wounds to his upper body. On the same day in Kech district, the bodies of Azam Mehrab, a resident of Tump, and Rahim, a resident of Mand, were found dumped in Juzak, on the outskirts of the town of Turbat. Both had been shot dead under unknown circumstances.
While Baloch nationalist leaders and activists have long been targeted by the Pakistani security forces, since the beginning of 2011, human rights activists and academics critical of the military have also been killed, Human Rights Watch said. Siddique Eido, a coordinator for the highly regarded nongovernmental organization Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), was abducted with another man by men in security forces uniforms on December 21, 2010 from the town of Pasni in Gwadar district.
The bodies of both men, bearing marks of torture, were found in Ormara, Gwadar district, on April 28. HRCP said that "the degree of official inaction and callousness" in response to Eido's death amounted to "collusion" in his killing. Earlier, on March 1, an HRCP coordinator for the city of Khuzdar, Naeem Sabir district, was shot and killed by unknown assailants.
On June 1, Saba Dashtiyari, a professor at the University of Balochistan and an acclaimed Baloch writer and poet, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the provincial capital, Quetta. Dashtiyari had publicly backed the cause of an independent Balochistan.
"Even the cold-blooded killing of human rights defenders and academics has not moved the Pakistani government to seriously investigate, rein in, or hold the security forces to account in Balochistan," Adams said. "The government's failure to open a credible investigation into the killing of someone as prominent as Saba Dashtiyari only adds fuel to the fire of anger and suspicion in the province."
Armed militant groups in Balochistan are responsible for killing many civilians and destroying private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, police stations, and major gas installations and infrastructure. They have also attacked security forces and military bases throughout the province. Abuses by militants in Balochistan were documented by Human Rights Watch in a December 2010 report "Their Future is at Stake."
Human Rights Watch called upon the Pakistan government to take immediate measures to end killings in Balochistan. The Pakistani authorities should conduct prompt, impartial, and transparent investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and ensure that all those responsible, regardless of rank, are fully prosecuted, including as a matter of command responsibility. Victims of abuses by government security forces should be provided appropriate redress.
"President Asif Ali Zardari should recognize that ignoring abuses in Balochistan amounts to giving a green light to the army and intelligence agencies to commit abuses elsewhere in Pakistan," Adams said. "By failing to hold the security forces accountable for abuses in Balochistan, Pakistan's government will feed into a cycle of violence that may haunt Pakistani democracy for years to come."
Background on Balochistan and Human Rights Abuses
Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with Pakistan's national government, in large part due to issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and exploration, and a consequent sense of deprivation. Under Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler from 1999 until 2008, the situation deteriorated markedly, culminating in a crackdown on Baloch nationalists by the security agencies controlled by the Pakistani military and its lead intelligence agency in the province, Military Intelligence (MI).
Since 2005, Pakistani and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have recorded numerous serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances, and forced displacement of civilians.
Militancy in Balochistan has been fuelled by ethnic Baloch anger over the Pakistani government's moves to harness local mineral and fossil fuel resources, maintain large numbers of troops in the province, and construct the Gwadar deep-sea port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf with non-Baloch workers. The Pakistani military claims that Baloch militants receive arms and financial support from India but has provided no evidence to support the claim.
In December 2009, Pakistan's newly elected civilian government, in an effort to bring about political reconciliation in the province, passed a package of constitutional, political, administrative, and economic reforms. Nonetheless, doubts persist within Baloch society about the Pakistan government's intentions. Divisions among Baloch nationalists have exacerbated lawlessness and violence in the province.
As the violence in Balochistan has intensified, atrocities have mounted. While the Pakistani military and Baloch militants readily exploit the misery of civilians for their own political purposes, they have failed to address these grievances or to accept responsibility for them.
Recent Extrajudicial Killings in Balochistan
Human Rights Watch has investigated cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Balochistan. Below are recent cases of killings that indicate involvement by the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, or the paramilitary Frontier Corps. There has been a notable failure by the federal government in Islamabad and the Balochistan provincial government in Quetta to investigate these cases and hold perpetrators accountable.
Enforced disappearance and killing of Abdul Ghaffar Lango
On December 11, 2009, a group of unknown men abducted Abdul Ghaffar Lango, a prominent Baloch nationalist activist, outside a hospital in Karachi in Sindh province.
At 3 p.m. that day, Lango was leaving the Institute of Surgery and Medicine, a hospital in Karachi, with his wife, who had just been discharged after surgery. Lango's wife told Human Rights Watch that as the couple reached the main gate, two white Toyota Vigo pickup trucks drove up at high speed in front of them and suddenly stopped. About 10 men in civilian clothes approached the couple. One beat Lango unconscious with the butt of his rifle, and Lango fell to the ground. The men then dragged him into one of the cars and drove away. Lango's wife said there were many witnesses to the incident since it took place in a crowded area in broad daylight.
Later that day, Lango's relatives tried to lodge a complaint about his abduction at the Garden police station in Karachi, but the police refused to accept it. A police officer at the station told the family that Lango had been detained because he was a BNP leader and authorities wanted to restrain him from participating in politics. But the police would not provide any information on his whereabouts.
The family filed a petition with the Sindh High Court on January 12, 2010. On January 15, the court ordered the deputy attorney general and advocate general of Sindh to submit a report on Lango's whereabouts within two weeks. On March 3, Sindh Deputy Attorney General Umer Hayat Sindhu told the court on behalf of the director general of the Intelligence Bureau that Lango had not been detained or arrested by the Intelligence Bureau, which, he explained, was "only an intelligence agency that does not detain anyone for interrogation." Police representatives also told the court that Lango was not in their custody. No other security or intelligence authorities reported on Lango's whereabouts.
On July 1, 2011, Lango's body was found in an abandoned hotel near the Lakbado area of the town of Gadani, in Lasbela district of Balochistan. The local police, represented by the station house officer of the Gadani police station, told the local media: "The body bore multiple marks of brutal torture. The cause of death was stated to be a severe wound in the head, caused by a hard rod or some other hard or sharp object." Lango appeared to have been recently killed.
Enforced Disappearance and Killing of Siddique Eido and Yusuf Nazar
Siddique Eido, a coordinator for the highly regarded nongovernmental organization Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and Yousaf Nazar, a tailor by profession, were abducted by men in security forces uniforms on December 21, 2010 from the town of Pasni in Gwadar district. Eido and Nazar were returning from Gwadar to their native Pasni after appearing in court in a criminal case lodged against them. Seven other co-accused and four police officers were travelling with them when their van was stopped by three unlicensed vehicles. The assailants, who were in Frontier Corps uniforms, abducted Eido and Nazar at gunpoint in the presence of the police officers. The bodies of both men were found in Ormara, Gwadar district, on April 28, 2011. Both bore marks of torture.
In response to the killings and the authorities' failure to seriously investigate the case, HRCP said: "The uniforms of the abductors and the vehicles they had used gave credence to the belief that state agents were involved. Siddique had been abducted in the presence of several policemen, but despite such clear evidence no action was taken to publicly identify abductors or secure release." HRCP added that "the degree of official inaction and callousness" amounted to "collusion" in Eido's killing.
Enforced Disappearance and Killing of Naseer Kamalan
Naseer Kamalan was abducted at gunpoint on November 5, 2010 from a passenger van on the Makran Coastal Highway near Pasni in Gwadar district. Kamalan's fellow passengers told Human Rights Watch that his abductors were in Frontier Corps uniforms and were driving a jeep of the type commonly used by the Frontier Corps. Kamalan's body was found on January 17, 2011, dumped on the Makran Coastal Highway.
Enforced Disappearance and Killing of Jamil Yaqub
Jamil Yaqub was abducted in the town of Turbat on August 28, 2010 by a group of men in Frontier Corps uniforms, who had arrived in a jeep with military markings and insignia. Family members described to Human Rights Watch how they hid from the Frontier Corps personnel and then watched helplessly as Yaqub was abducted during daylight hours. Yaqub's body, bearing marks of torture, was found on February 10, 2011, on the outskirts of Turbat.
Other Killings Verified by Human Rights Watch
According to eyewitnesses, Hanif Baloch, a Baloch Students Organisation (Azad) (BSO-Azad) activist, was abducted from the town of Hub on July 4, 2011, by armed men in military uniform. His body was found on July 6, with three bullet wounds to his upper body.
On July 6, two bodies bearing multiple bullet wounds were found dumped near Juzak on the outskirts of Turbat in Kech district. Turbat District Headquarters Hospital authorities identified them as Azam Mehrab, a resident of Tump, and Rahim, son of Muhammad Yousaf, a resident of Go Kurth area of Mand, in Panjgoor district.
On June 18, the BSO-Azad junior joint secretary, Shafi Baloch, was abducted from the Lakhpass area of Mastung district. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Baloch was going to Mastung from Quetta in a passenger van for medical treatment when uniformed, armed men in three cars made him disembark and abducted him at gunpoint. His bullet-riddled body was found dumped near Mach, in Bolan district, 60 kilometers from Quetta.
On June 1, Prof. Saba Dashtiyari, a professor at the University of Balochistan in Quetta and an acclaimed writer and poet, was killed after being shot repeatedly by unidentified gunmen on Sariab Road in Quetta. Dashtiyari was the author of several books on Baloch culture and language and was a scholar on Islam. In recent years, he had publicly backed the cause for an armed struggle to achieve an independent Balochistan. No one has claimed responsibility for Dashtiyari's killing.