As the world prepares to observe International Human Rights Day, thousands of families in Balochistan silently mourn their near and dear ones. These unfortunates were ‘picked-up’ for ‘routine questioning’ by soldiers of Pakistan army, Frontier Corps (FC) or proxies of the military and its intelligence agencies, but never returned home. In 2014, three mass graves were accidentally discovered by a shepherd while grazing sheep in Totak area of Khuzdar district in Balochistan. When the media and human rights groups weren’t allowed to visit the site of the mass graves for getting a firsthand account, Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) official Tahir Hussain demanded that the “Government should ensure the access of media and rights groups,” but his pleas went unheard. Barring media and rights groups from performing their duties something that usually doesn’t happen in a democracy but then, as we all know, Pakistan is a ‘unique’ democracy.
The Pakistan government and army have never given any reasons for denying media and human rights groups access to the mass grave site. However, this brazen attempt to avoid transparent investigation makes Pakistani security forces and its intelligence agencies the subjects of serious suspicion. A judicial inquiry commission headed by Justice Noor Muhammad Maskanzai of the Balochistan High Court investigated the mass graves and concluded that “No evidence of involvement of intelligence agencies has been found in connection with the mass graves.” However, what makes this deduction laughable is that an experienced judge came to this conclusion because “no one has recorded any statement against the armed forces and security agencies.” Anyone aware about the state of affairs in Balochistan will tell you that testifying against the army or intelligence agencies is like signing one’s own death warrant!
It is also worth mentioning that except for two corpses that could be identified from slips found amongst their remains, none of the other dead bodies had any identification papers on them. This is indeed very intriguing as everyone knows that to avoid harassment and possible arrest on suspicion of being militants or their sympathisers, Balochis invariably carry their identity documents with them. Therefore, the absence of identity documents in the mass graves could be only due to two reasons- the first, that the deceased may have been ‘picked up’ from their homes and thus were not in possession of their identity documents at that time and the second, that these documents had been intentionally removed from their bodies to prevent identification. That this elementary yet important aspect has been overlooked by the commission headed by a high court judge is inexplicable.
While the Justice Noor Muhammad Maskanzai commission may have absolved the Pakistan armyas well as its intelligence agencies and proxies, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report leaves no room for any doubts regarding Pakistan army’s complicity in the mass graves case. The AHRC report states that “These mass graves were found very close to the residence of Mr. Shafique Mengal, who is a well known man of the security agencies and who is heading a militant organisation with the name of Nifaz-e-Amn. The organisation claims itself to be affiliated to the Pakistan security forces, working for the implementation of Islam and against Anti State elements. He has been provided with 30 armed vehicles.”
The AHRC reports goes on to state, “Whenever the security forces fail to conduct actions in tribal and mountainous areas they ask for Mengal’s help. The Frontier Corp (FC) own this organisation as the true one working body for the protection of Balochistan. The FC and other forces, as claimed by Baloch nationalist groups, have helped him to make private jails and torture centers in Totak where the missing persons are brought and tortured before being extra- judicially killed. There is no power supply in the area but interestingly, electricity lines were provided to his private jails and his ‘fort’ which is guarded by the law enforcement agencies.”
The AHRC isn’t the only independent agency to indict Pakistani security forces. The BBC has reported that at least 20 eyewitnesses had testified before the judicial commission that Mengal was responsible for the murder of at least 17 men whose bodies were later found in the Totak mass graves. However, since Shafique Mengal has been Pakistan army’s ‘Man Friday’ in restive Balochistan, it is not at all surprising that despite these incriminating exposés by organisations with extremely high credibility ratings, no action has been taken against him. And the most sickening part is that Mengal who acted as the army’s ‘chief executioner’ in Balochistan and was responsible for murdering and dumping an undisclosed number of innocent people in mass graves is not only roaming around freely but is even delving in politics so that he can fulfill his ambition of becoming a law maker!
Tailpiece: In its November 2017 bulletin, ‘Reporters Sans Frontieres’ (RSF) has made three spine chilling revelations- One, “As in the rest of Pakistan, where the army functions as a state within the state, coverage of security issues is off limits for the media. Journalists who cross this red line are liable to be harassed, arrested or murdered.” Two, “the situation is even tenser in the unstable province of Balochistan, where around 40 journalists have been killed in the past decade. Death threats by both rebel groups and intelligence agencies are frequent” and three, “Balochistan’s armed groups have been on RSF’s 2013 list of “Press Freedom Predators”(and) Pakistan’s intelligence services were added to the new list published in 2016.”
With Pakistani intelligence agencies sharing the ignominious “Press Freedom Predators” slot with Balochistan’s armed groups, the hapless people in the region remain inextricably wedged between the devil and deep sea. Terrorised by both Baloch armed groups and the Pakistan army’s intelligence agencies, they have no one to turn to for succor. So, on this International Human Rights Day, let’s at least shed a few tears for the extremely vulnerable and deprived people of Balochistan!