Worse than the Syrian Refugees!



This is the story from Pakistan which you do not read in daily newspapers or see being discussed in TV channels. As if no one wants to hear this story of violence and repression by Pakistan against its own citizens, the Baloch.

Long before the Syrians and Iraqis became war refugees, the Baloch have been living like refugees in their own country, hounded and hunted by the state agencies for decades now.

In a recent BBC documentary, a rare audio-visual on the plight of the Baloch, a woman captured the agony and hopelessness of her community in these words: “They came to our house in three vehicles. These were the vehicles of agencies. They took away Jalil…The police did not take our report. Our male relatives later approached the then chief minister’s office, but we could not get any response. Two years later, some people found his body in Mand. He had one bullet in the head and three in the chest. His arms were fractured and there were cigarette burns on his back.”

Jalil is only one among the over 1000 bodies of political activists and others from Balochistan whose often mutilated and tortured bodies have been found in Balochistan in the last six years. There is no count of people who remain untraced, dead or alive. These numbers could be way above a thousand because the figures quoted above are from the official source, the government of Pakistan.

Even these conservative figures point to a large-scale extrajudicial killings by the state, especially Pakistan Army which has ostensibly been engaged in a counter-terrorism operation in Balochistan since early 2005. The media is barred from reporting from the ground and the Pakistan Army has never given out exact figures of the people it has killed in these operations. The enormity of the repression, and tragedy, could only be elicited from anecdotal evidence and from occasional discovery of mass graveyards in the province.

The English daily, THE NEWS (December 30, 2016), quoting figures from the Federal Ministry of Human Rights of Pakistan, stated that at least 936 dead bodies were found in Balochistan since 2011, most of them dumped in Quetta, Qalat, Khuzdar and Makran  areas. One of these bodies was that of JalilReki who lived in Quetta and went missing in 2009.

The relatives of the victims know that the numbers are too way high and there is no possible way in which the brutal repression and killing of Baloch can be estimated. Such is the blanket ban on movement and reporting within Balochistan and only few human rights activists dare to report on the genocide, albeit in more general terms. Like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report in 2013 which reported  “credible reports of continued serious human rights violations, including [enforced] disappearances of people, arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial killings”

But this is not the first time any human rights organisation has raised a red flag over the repression of the Baloch. Not long ago, when the Pakistan Army, under General Pervez Musharraf, began a military offensive against the Baloch people, people began to disappear so regularly that even the media in Islamabad could not ignore it. Petitions began to be filed in courts and a bold Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhary, decided to take up the cases and threatened the army to disclose the whereabouts of the disappeared persons. In response, General Musharraf, in March 2007, who was then both the army chief and the President, went to the house of the Chief Justice and threatened him to back off and when he refused, sacked him there and then. That was his way of shutting up any voice against the repression of the Baloch people. This incident may have led to the downfall of the military muscleman but the Baloch tragedy too got buried in the melee.

The Pakistan Army though did not give up on the Baloch genocide and began the repression once a new General took over the army.

The human rights violations in Balochistan have been so consistent and gross that it has diluted the terror and atrocities faced by the Baloch in the minds of the people, both in Pakistan and in other parts of the world. While refugees struggling to find a shelter in rich western shores find ready coverage and global outrage, the “kill and dump policy“ of the Pakistan to subjugate its own citizens cause no emotional outrage or call for international action.

In many ways, the condition of the Baloch is worse than that of the Syrian refugees; they are not fleeing a war, they are a victim of a long and slow genocide perpetrated in the name of “war on terrorism” by the very state which should have protected them.