Why Balochistan has gained the infamous title of being the world capital of enforced disappearances.
As the Baloch resistance refuses to die down in France-sized Balochistan even after a decade long bloody, military crackdown in the name of Islam, a prominent Baloch journalist, and a famous Baloch singer have fled Pakistan after facing death threats. The two, Razzaq Sarbazi, 39, and Hafeez Ali Baloch, 40, both said goodbye forever to the “Land of Pure” last year and are now seeking asylum in Sweden. In a related development, Pakistan military officially lodged a complaint against the Baloch resistance leaders in the UK last week. Balochistan has had the dubious distinction of being the world capital of enforced disappearances where more than 2,000 journalists, singers, teachers, lawyers have been forcibly abducted, tortured, killed and dumped since 2009 – in just five years, as many as in Chile during the reign of Augusto Pinochet. Last year alone, as many as 455 people, who were forcibly abducted, were tortured and killed by the Pakistani security forces and intelligence services, and their bodies dumped, according to Nasrullah Baloch, president of the Baloch Voice for Missing Persons. The British rulers had said “honour the Baloch", but the Pakistan’s Punjab army dominated rulers seem to be interested in dishonouring even the Baloch dead.
Journalist Razzaq Sarbazi, blogger, senior TV news producer and documentary filmmaker, said his life was under constant threat in Pakistan and he was denied his freedom of expression by the Pakistani security and intelligence services, leaving him with no option but to escape to the West. “Journalism in Pakistan was like an unending nightmare for me,” Sarbazi said. “The price my colleagues and I paid for the written word is embedded in my memory like a deep wound.” At least four of Sarbazi’s colleagues in Daily Tawar, Haji Razzaq Baloch, Razzaq Gul, Abdul Khaliq and Javed Naseer Rind, were killed by the Pakistani intelligence services since 2011. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, body of Haji Abdul Razzaq Baloch, 35, which bore signs of strangulation and torture, was found on August 21, 2013 from Surjani town on the outskirts of Karachi, along with the body of another Baloch activist.
Haji Baloch worked as copy editor for the news desk of the Urdu-languageDaily Tawar. The copy editor had gone missing on March 24. The CPJ said at least 16 bodies of Baluch individuals were found in the Surjani Town area of Karachi in the six months. In a second case, the CPJ reported Razzaq Gul, 35, who was a senior reporter with Express News TV in Turbat, hometown of Balochistan chief minister Malik Baloch and a city in the Kech district of Balochistan, was abducted near his home on the evening of May 18 2012. The CPJ added, Gul’s body was found the very next day with several bullet wounds and bruises that indicated he had been tortured. In the third case, the director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, denounced the murder of Abdul Khaliq, who was also known as Abdul Haq Baluch, after he was shot by unidentified gunmen on September 29, 2012 in Khuzdar. Khaliq worked as a reporter for ARY News TV and two newspapers, the Daily Awam and Tawar. The body of Javed Naseer Rind, who was an editor and columnist with the Urdu-language Daily Tawar was found in Khuzdar on November 5, 2011, the CPJ said. He was forcibly abducted from his hometown of Hub on September 11. Rind had been shot multiple times in the head and chest, and his body showed numerous signs of torture in the midst of the deaths of his colleagues, two years ago. Sarbazi was running from pillar to post asking the whereabouts of his younger brother Abdul Jalil and his friend Abdul Saboor.
The two were visiting the zoological gardens in Karachi, also called Gandhi Garden, when they were abducted by Pakistani spooks on August 11, 2012. “My brother was badly tortured. He was asked about my bank accounts where the US was sending money to me, though I have no such account,” Razzak Sarbazi said. “My brother now needs psychiatric help. His only fault was that he was my younger brother.”
Sarbazi incurred the wrath of Pakistani intelligence services after he aired an interview of Baloch Liberation Front chief Dr Allah Nazar Baloch, a gold medalist student leader from Quetta who faced brutal torture at the hands of Pakistani intelligence services. “I had a hard time convincing the owners of the television channel to run the segment,” Sarbazi recalled.
Early deaths at the hands of Pakistan spooks shadowed Sarbazi’s friends in other fields as well. Three years ago, two of Sarbazi’s Baloch friends, one who was working for the consulate general of the US in Karachi, and the second who worked for a German non-profit, and who also worked for the US consulate before joining the German non-profit, were killed one after the other, within a span of ten days by the Pakistani secret services. One of the victims was Hakim Baloch, 27, who was widely believed to have been poisoned, and who died on December 1, 2011. The deceased, who once worked for the pro-independence Daily Tawar, mysteriously died just five months into his job at the US consulate. The Americans officially said he “was taken from us so unexpectedly, so tragically”; the victim’s father and other family members suspected foul play. They say the 27-year-old man was in perfect health, just three days before his death and cannot understand his sudden illness.
Ten days later, on human rights day, December 10, a second gifted Baloch, Faisal Mengal, 36, programme coordinator at the Hanns Seidel Foundation, fell prey to Pakistani assassin’s bullets in Karachi in what the German embassy in Islamabad described as "targeted" killing. The victim’s relative, Rauf Mengal, a former member of the national assembly, said Pakistan rulers had left Genghis Khan behind in their cruel treatment of the Baloch men.
Sarbazi, who was once declared wajibulqatal, or someone who deserves death for exposing the dispatch of youths for jihad in Afghanistan, recalls the deadly times he faced in Pakistan. “One night when I was returning from the residence of the US consul in Karachi after a largely attended function where singer Mary McBride sang in honour of the memory of slain Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, my way was blocked by four plain clothesmen. When I tried to show them my press identity card, they told me they knew all about me, questioned me on why I had gone to the consulate,” Sarbazi said. Pearl was abducted on January 23, 2002 and slaughtered a week later by al Qaeda terrorists, with the blessings of the Pakistani intelligence services. French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who was president Jacques Chirac's special envoy to Afghanistan in his book Who Killed Daniel Pearl, wrote Pearl was killed by the Pakistani intelligence services.
“I always saw them shadowing me during my work,” Sarbazi said. In his work as a journalist, he exclusively covered the war in Balochistan, including enforced disappearances. “The issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan is such that before daring to highlight it, a journalist has to count his days on earth,” Sarbazi said. “I remained faithful to my pen and paid a price for it.” Well-known singer Hafeez Ali Baloch, 40, who is ranked among the top ten Baloch singers in the world and has 12 albums of Baloch songs to his credit, has escaped to Sweden. Hafeez Baloch’s songs praised the Zikris, a minority sect of Muslims who neither believe in going to hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca nor do they bow towards Mecca; at least two out of five Baloch are Zikris, and unlike the Punjabi Sunnis who kill their own ethnic Punjabis, Ahmadi Muslims, Zikris and mainstream Sunni Muslims rarely pick a bone. Inter-marriages are common, and one sibling may be mainstream Sunni and the other a Zikri.
Pakistani intelligence services are trying hard to change this, and, in August, targeted a Zikri place of worship in Mashkay, killing seven worshippers. According to Hafeez Baloch, he was once asked by what he thought were his patrons to come perform at an event in Hub town in Balochistan. When he went there, there was no musical function but plainclothes men who surrounded him menacingly and warned him to stop singing Balochi patriotic songs. Hafeez Baloch toured all over Balochistan to sing his songs of freedom, endangering his life.
For millions in South Asia, one of the worst sins of the white man in the last century was the partition of India on August 1947, and a side tragedy of that holocaust was the occupation of Balochistan at gun-point by Pakistan on March 27, 1948. As if not content with their past sins, the UK government presented a guard of honour to Pakistan army chief general Raheel Sharif during his visit to 10 Downing Street. Media reports said the generalissimo, whose official biography describes him racist, “hails from martial stock” and who lost an uncle and a brother in Pakistan’s unjust wars against India in 1965 and 1971, sought UK action against the Baloch Liberation Army and its London-based chief Hyrbyair Marri. Marri was arrested and kept at the maximum security Belmarsh prison after being accused of terrorism by Pakistan coup leader General Pervez Musharraf, former boss of General Sharif’s. General Sharif’s accusation against Marri is analogous to a Baloch saying, “I did not catch the thief, the thief caught me” –.
General Sharif, who has completely sidelined and ostracised prime minister Nawaz Sharif in both domestic and foreign affairs and whose soldiers are accused of committing Hitler-style atrocities in Balochistan, has done everything to keep foreign media out of Balochistan. In fact, no foreigners but Chinese are welcomed by Islamabad in Balochistan, while the key Gwadar port has also been handed over to Beijing. After the devastating earthquake of 2013 that left thousands homeless in Balochistan, in order to keep the world in the dark on Pakistan’s secret dirty war and the army-made tragedy there, Islamabad adamantly refused permission to Doctors Without Borders, who were interested in helping the Baloch populace.
Balochistan has one of the worse social indicators in the world, when it comes to infant mortality rates and illiteracy rates. In large areas of the vast province, humans and livestock drink water from the same dirty pond for their survival. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) was once proscribed in London on July 18, 2006, five weeks before Pakistan military assassinated Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, 79, a former governor and chief minister of Balchistan on August 26, 2006. “Well done boys,” General Musharraf remarked when he was conveyed the news of Bugti’s killing, while inaugurating the supply of gas from Bugti’s hometown Sui thousands of miles away in Murree, Punjab – a symbolic reflection of the barbaric injustices being meted out to Balochistan. The UK ban on BLA had even surprised Pakistani newspapers such as the Punjab-based Daily Times, which in an editorial wrote, “As far as evidence goes, (the BLA) has never threatened British interests.” According to senior BBC journalist Owen Bennett-Jones, “General Sharif asked that the British take action against Baloch separatists living in London, including Hyrbyair Marri, who Pakistani officials say is the leader of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).” Around the same time in fall 2006 when the BLA was banned by the UK and Nawab Akbar Bugti killed, Pakistan’s infamous ISI was busy helping Osama bin Laden find comfort at his mansion next door to the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
If indeed Pakistan was an ally of the West, it surely was “an ally from hell.” Responding to General Sharif’s demands against the BLA, Hyrbyair Marri said in a statement from London Pakistan that army was raising a hue and cry about religious extremists moving from Waziristan to other cities in order to get more aid from the West in the name of terrorism, but in reality all these extremists are creation of the army. “Pakistan’s savage army is creating false fear in world about religious extremists to gain more [financial and military] aid and using those resources indiscriminately against Baloch people. Along with state violence military is also promoting religious extremism in Balochistan,” Marri, whose major weakness according to Baloch sources is not appreciating the role of the other Baloch militant groups and parties in the freedom struggle, was cited as saying by the Baloch Warna website. Marri asked the free world to press charges of war crimes on Pakistan generals, like they did in the case of Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Chile’s general Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in London. The Pakistan generals have killed more Baloch than Pinochet’s army killed Chilean opposition members.