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Balochistan: Deepening Catastrophe

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By Anurag Tripathi
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On January 17-18, 2014, at least 13 highly decomposed bodies were found buried in the Tootak area of Khuzdar District in Balochistan Province. On February 4, 2014, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Khuzdar, Syed Abdul Hameed Shah, submitted a report to the Supreme Court, stating that 13 dead bodies had been recovered from a mass grave on the indication of a local shepherd who informed the DC's office. Balochistan Home Secretary Asad Jillani informed the Court that a one-man inquiry commission had been constituted and would complete its inquiry within one month. The Apex Court has now directed the Balochistan Government to submit DNA and inquiry commission reports on March 7, 2014.

On February 1, 2014, the Supreme Court had taken notice of the issue following a statement by the Chairman of the Voice for Balochistan Missing Persons (VFBMP) Nasrullah Baloch, who had claimed on January 31, 2014, that around 100 bodies had been recovered from mass graves in Khuzdar, and among them three had been identified as missing persons. This is the continuation of an entrenched trend. On December 31, 2013, Nasrullah Baloch had alleged that 161 Baloch political workers had been subjected to extra-judicial killings in different parts of Balochistan through 2013, and that “Secret services picked up 510 Baloch political workers.”

Significantly, the Supreme Court has been hearing the Balochistan missing people case since 2012 and has already reprimanded the Government for its failure to comply with its order on several occasions. At times, the Government has pleaded helplessness in the matter. Crucially, on January 30, 2014, the Balochistan Provincial Government conceded before the Supreme Court that it was handicapped in recovering missing Baloch persons, because it had no effective control over the Frontier Corps (FC), which was accused of 'detaining' these persons. In March 2013, the Commission on the Inquiry of Enforced Disappearances, a government-sponsored judicial commission, admitted that total number of missing person cases stood at 621 at that time. However, Nasrullah Baloch, dismissed the figure: “Absolutely wrong figures. 621? Not at all. 23,000 is the number of registered cases. From this, a whole 14,000 came during the current Government’s tenure.”

Indeed, extra-judicial killings have become the order of the day in the restive Province. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Province has recorded at least 3,073 civilian fatalities since 2004. 276 civilian killings (174 in the South and 102 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations such as the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA). The Islamist and sectarian extremist formations, primarily Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the killing of another 489 civilians, all in North, mostly in and around Quetta. The remaining 2,308 civilian fatalities - 1426 in South and 882 in North - remain ‘unattributed’. As SAIR has noted, a large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities, particularly in the Southern region, are believed to be the result of enforced disappearances carried out by state agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan).

Sectarian violence orchestrated by Islamabad-backed Islamist formations is also responsible for a significant proportion of civilian fatalities. SATP data indicates that at least 239 Hazara Shias were killed in Balochistan through 2013. SATP recorded at least 396 Hazara Shia fatalities in Balochistan between 2001 and 2012. In the most recent incident, on January 21, 2014, at least 24 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran were killed and 40 were injured in a bomb attack targeting their bus at Khusak in the Kanak area of Mastung District, Balochistan. The attack was claimed by LeJ.

Northern Balochistan is dominated by Islamist terrorist groups and Sunni sectarian formations such as the TTP and the LeJ. A multiplicity of Baloch nationalist groupings operate principally in South Balochistan. South Balochistan has accounted for at least 1,848 fatalities, including 1,056 civilians, 429 Security Force (SF) personnel and 3370 terrorists, since 2004. The Northern areas of the Province, recorded 2,758 fatalities, including 2,017 civilians, 424 SF personnel and 307 terrorists, over the same period.

The security scenario in Balochistan continues to deteriorate. Balochistan recorded at least 960 fatalities, including 718 civilians, 137 SF personnel and 105 militants in 2013. In 2012, total fatalities stood at 954, including 690 civilians, 178 SF personnel and 86 militants. 711 fatalities were recorded in 2011, including 542 civilians, 122 SF personnel and 47 militants. The first 40 days of 2014 have already seen at least 108 killed, including 79 civilians, 14 SF personnel and 15 militants. Since 2007, Balochistan has recorded a continuous year on year increase in the number of civilians killed. 

The number and lethality of suicide attacks in the Province has also increased considerably, with nine such incidents resulting in 233 fatalities and 407 injuries in 2013; as against three such attacks resulting in 30 deaths and 60 injuries in 2012 and 60 fatalities and 124 injuries in four attacks in 2011.

Further, as against 70 major incidents of killing (each involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 213 fatalities in 2012, 63 such incidents were recorded in 2013, but fatalities rose to 433 fatalities. The Province also recorded fewer bomb attacks, but with considerably higher fatalities in 2013, 138 and 440 respectively; as compared to 148 resulting in 205 fatalities in 2012.

There were 18 attacks on NATO convoys through 2013, with six killed and seven injured, following ten such attacks in 2012, with six injured and none killed.

Through the year, Baloch rebels in the southern part of the Province continued to carry out attacks overwhelmingly targeting the economic infrastructure, mainly gas pipelines, power pylons and railway tracks. The attacks remained principally non-lethal in intent. According to partial data compiled by SATP, there have been at least 206 incidents of sabotaging of gas pipelines since 2004.

Given the state of Governance, acts of violence were, crucially, not restricted to a few areas, but occurred in practically each one of the 29 Districts of the Province, including the capital, Quetta. Quetta bore the brunt of terrorism through the year, with 190 terrorism-related incidents, including six suicide attacks. Out of the 138 bomb blasts recorded in Balochistan through 2013, 51 were reported from Quetta alone.

Commenting on the deteriorating law and order situation during a debate in the Provincial Assembly on August 28, 2013, Chief Minister (CM) Abdul Malik Baloch observed:

Most of the Baloch dominated areas in Balochistan were “no go” areas. Right from the Sariab Road area of Quetta to Mand in Turbat District, nobody feels safe to go there. Even Taliban style judgments are being issued in different parts of Balochistan. 78 gangs involved in kidnapping and other subversive activities were operating in Quetta alone.

Major General Ejaz Shahid, Inspector General, Frontier Corps (FC), similarly admitted on January 22, 2014, "we are struggling to establish the writ of the Government along Balochistan's western border. We are quite far away from even playing the national anthem in state-run schools in Panjgur, Turbat [Kech] and adjacent cities in Makran Division."

Meanwhile, the Provincial Government, on December 30, 2013, resolved to disarm ‘all armed groups’ in Balochistan, as part of a ‘smart and effective security policy’. Under the new strategy, the operation will begin against the BLA, BRA, UBA, Baloch United Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Front. The scope of the operation will then extend to separatist groups such as the Balochistan Bunyad Parast Army, Baloch Musalla Difa Tanzeem, Balochistan National Liberation Army, Baloch Republican Party-Azad, Baloch Student Organisation Azad, Balochistan Waja Liberation Army and Lashkar-e-Balochistan.

It is both significant and unsurprising that Islamist terrorist formations find no mention in this listing, though they are responsible for the greater proportion of attributable attacks and killings in Balochistan. Indeed, terming reports about the presence of the Afghan Taliban as baseless and far from reality, Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti on January 6, 2014, declared that there was no Taliban Shura (council) in Quetta and that there was "no sign of Afghan Taliban factor in the Province. I have no information about the killing of Taliban leaders." He added, further, that 'foreign hands' were involved in the prevailing unrest in Balochistan. Significantly, on January 4, 2014, Afghan Taliban sources had been quoted claiming that unidentified assailants had assassinated two senior members of the Afghan Taliban in Quetta a few days earlier. The deceased were identified as Mulla Noorullah Hotak (50), a member of the Taliban shura headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar and also serving as Taliban’s shadow governor for Afghanistan’s Zabul Province; and Mulla Abdul Malik, member of the Taliban commission responsible for making high-level appointments.

However, contradicting his Home Minister’s implied allegation, as well as Islamabad's standard rhetoric about India’s role in the troubles in Balochistan, on October 20, 2013, Chief Minister Baloch stated that he had no evidence of alleged Indian involvement in the volatile region. Earlier, on September 25, 2013, Baloch had expressed the view in London, that the Pakistani establishment was responsible for the deteriorating situation in Balochistan and for pursuing 'flawed policies'.

Islamabad’s policy of appeasing Islamist extremists while suppressing the genuine demands of the Baloch people by raising the bogey of the 'foreign hand' continues to wreak devastation in the Province. Despite Chief Minister Baloch's vocal opposition to this disruptive and bloody approach to domestic political management there can be little hope of any respite from violence in Balochistan in the foreseeable future. 

[Source: SATP]

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