In a shocking turn of events in the Balochistan saga, The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has finally confirmed the human rights abuses in the region – something that Pakistan has refuted up until now.

In the recent fact-finding report, Balochistan: Still Neglected, the HRCP admitted that the province has been politically short-changed since 1947. It addressed the enforced disappearances of thousands of locals and stated that it was still the biggest issue in Balochistan. The report acknowledged that incidents of disappearance continue unabated and, in most cases, victims’ families are afraid of communicating their cases to the authorities.

Enforced Disappearances

It said, “There are also grave allegations of human rights violations by the state’s security agencies present in Balochistan. One of the most serious accusations against the agencies concerns their alleged role in enforced disappearances and the dumping of mutilated bodies of persons who have been ‘disappeared’.

“Over the years, the provincial governments and federal agencies have failed to hold any state functionaries accountable for their role in enforced disappearances and other such gross human rights violations in the province. Following the 18th Constitutional Amendment, there was some hope that the provincial government would have more say in running its affairs. Yet, the general perception remains that the state’s security agencies continue to be the decision-makers in Balochistan.”

Enforced disappearances and people who, to date, remain missing, has been one of the main human rights violations in Balochistan. Whilst some of the missing persons have been returned – including youth activists – a worrying number of people are still unaccounted for. Nevertheless, continued enforced disappearances remain widespread and rampant, and frequently, police are unwilling to lodge a first information report (FIR) in such cases.

Disturbingly, many women from some areas like Dera Bugti and Awaran have simply “disappeared” with no traces. Yet, such accounts are rarely recorded or even reported. Mama Oadeer, an activist, told HRCP that around 47,000 Baloch and around 35,000 Pashtuns are ‘missing’, and many family members explained how their loved ones have been abducted and not heard from since. Yet, these figures might not reflect the true reality of the grim situation. And in some instances, people have been missing for up to 18 years.

Pakistani authorities have been accused of not only killing but also disposing the bodies of alleged militants and for years, the bodies of missing Baloch activists have turned up all over the region.

Despite brief periods of relative calm, the HRCP conceded that law and order has remained unsatisfactory over the years in the region and the overall security situation remains tense.

Protests

In response to the epidemic of the missing, Baloch women united to protest against the enforced disappearances last week. Led by Mama Qadir Baloch of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, they also highlighted the case of Rashid Hussain, a political activist and student from Balochistan, who was arrested by UAE’s secret police in November 2018. He was handed over to the Pakistan authorities in June 2019, and no word of his whereabouts has since been disclosed. His family has said that Pakistani officials have claimed that Rashid moved on to India. Despite this, he has not received access to legal aid or appeared in a court of law.

Root of the conflict

Immensely rich in mineral resources, Balochistan is Pakistan’s biggest province by and accounts for around 43% of its total landmass. It is also its least populous area, as well as its poorest one. The locals have not benefited from the wealth of the land’s resources. According to a 2017 study, around 90 per cent of people have no access to clean drinking water and earn well below the national average.

Following Pakistan’s independence in 1947 from British rule, Balochistan has been manhandled and at the centre of various conflicts over the years. The most recent insurgency began in the early 2000s with a small group of militants and escalated after military forces killed Nawab Akbar Bugti, a tribal leader.

Since then, religious extremism and violence has grown, with rebels singling out non-Muslim and minority Muslim sects. Meanwhile, some nationalists have going from wanting political autonomy to demanding complete independence. Despite this, the majority simply want better policies to be implemented by the Pakistani government.

One Baloch activist, Kehkashan Haider, told Republic TV a few days ago, “Since the time we went to Pakistan and till date, from past 72 years, we haven’t got a government job, we haven’t got a federal job, we don’t have a government job or a federal job or in army or police, we don’t have a job anywhere. Pakistani authorities have demolished our offices and we are not allowed to vote. We don’t have political freedom and the door of opportunities has been shut on our face”.