Kill and Dump: Military Extremism in Balochistan
May 30, 2011 § 3 Comments
Guest post: Nosheen Ali
One morning, in August 2006, the dead body of Captain Zameer Abbas was brought back to Gilgit from Balochistan. At that time, I was a visiting faculty member at the Karakoram University in Gilgit, and was living in the university’s girls hostel. Captain Abbas was amongst the 21 security personnel who had died during Musharraf’s military operation against the Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti.
With everyone I met that day – students at the university, staff members at a local NGO, shop-keepers, and taxi drivers – the topic of conversation was the Captain’s death. How Zameer Abbas was just 29 years old when he died. How he had gotten married just last month, and how his mother was now in the hospital. For several days, people were mourning the tragedy that had befallen this respected local soldier and his family.
In bitterness and concealed anger, many criticized the way in which the region’s bodies were being used to implement a warped state agenda. In sheer bewilderment, they wondered how the Pakistani government could use fighter jets and gunship helicopters to openly kill a prominent leader of an already marginalized province. When I talked to the hostel’s female cook about the operation, she said, “Killing one’s own people? Where is such a principle followed? Use of force can never be a solution.”
I was shocked at the fact that this failure of logic and humanity was clearly evident to people around me, but seemed to escape so many in the big cities of Pakistan. The state has to enforce its writ, one heard from even the liberal thinkers. Why would any Balochi respect the state’s writ when the state has become synonymous with gross violations of rule of law? One also heard about the tribalism of Baloch society, and how the sardars were exploiting the poor Baloch. There are exploitations along tribal, biradari, and class lines in the whole of Pakistan. Surely, we wouldn’t advocate state violence as a policy to deal with them? Disconnected and depoliticized, many elite members of society simply didn’t bother to become informed. For them, Musharraf was a great leader who was spearheading economic growth, and must be doing the right thing.
The open killing of the 79-year old Bugti, a former governor and elected chief minister of Balochistan, was a watershed moment that radicalized even ordinary, apolitical Balochis to join the long-standing nationalist movement for regional rights and justice. More than 50,000 Baloch were displaced during the extended military operation surrounding the killing. Even worse, national and international organizations were obstructed from providing humanitarian relief to these IDPs for fear of exposure. When UNICEF came out with a report on the condition of the IDPs, its chief was asked to leave the country and other officials were pressurized to retract their words.
The military operation has only intensified over the last five years, with the most brutal forms of state terror being unleashed in the region today. Reportedly, more than 4,000 people have been illegally abducted and detained by our notorious agencies. According to the organization Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, around 149 of those missing have been murdered and disposed in what has come to be called a “kill and dump” policy. The dehumanizing nature of the violence is evidenced not just in the ways people are tortured – with drilled holes in the head and bodies mutilated beyond recognition – but also in the way they are discarded. One note accompanying a decomposed corpse said, “Eid gift for the Baloch.”
Those who have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed are not just some armed militants hiding in the mountains. A vast proportion of them are from the urban middle class, including students, engineers, lawyers, journalists, and activists who have been engaging in civilian protest against military atrocities. For their families, the possibilities of justice have also been crushed. As the Guardian reported two months ago, a Baloch farmer went to court to file a case for his missing son but his lawyer was murdered. When he subsequently went to the media, the president of the local press club was murdered. Now, no one wishes to speak up for him.
In this devastating situation, why should we be surprised or offended if Baloch kids refuse to sing the national anthem, and local schools refuse to fly the national flag? Why do we shudder when increasing number of people in Balochistan – including women for the first time – cry “Pakistan murdabad”? Every dead body is an embodiment of Pakistani violence, and a renewed resolve to fight for independence. Burning with anger and retaliation, the armed Baloch groups have also resorted to horrific forms of indiscriminate violence. They used to blow up gas pipelines. Now they do target killings. Punjabi settlers, government servants, even Chinese engineers – any blood that the elite might care about.
To address the situation, the present civilian government had introduced the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan package in November 2009, promising a ban on new military cantonments, a commission on enforced disappearances, and payment of overdue gas royalties. Exactly what was needed. But the civilian government remains powerless in the face of the forces that continue to run and rampage Balochistan – the ISI, the Military Intelligence, and especially the Frontier Corps (FC). US military aid was meant to train and equip the FC to fight the intrusion of the Taliban into Pakistan. Instead, the FC has given shelter and medical relief to the Taliban in Balochistan, and focused on crushing the Baloch – with the same inhumanity, impunity, and imperial arrogance that we often associate with the US in Iraq or Qaddafi in Libya.
Forty years ago, the eminent sociologist Hamza Alavi wrote that it was the Pakistani army itself which was most threatened by the Bengali demand for regional autonomy. The Awami League, which had an absolute majority in Parliament, was committed to aiding development by decentralizing economic policy-making and reducing military expenditure. Moreover, army cadres were fed the self-perpetuating delusion that Bengali nationalism was “an Indian inspired, Indian financed, and Indian engineered move to disrupt the unity of Pakistan.” This was accompanied by an added delusion – that Bengali nationalism was limited to a small number of intellectuals and politicians, and if they were eliminated, the obedience of the Bengali people would be restored.
These our precisely the twin delusions which were used to drive and justify a systematic campaign of violence against Bengalis in 1971, at the hands of our armed forces and its sponsored JI militants, Al-Badr and Al-Shams. We all know the result. These are precisely the delusions that undergird the current campaign of terror in Balochistan, with new sponsored wings such as Baloch Musla Difai Tanzeem and Sipah-e-Shuhda-e-Balochistan. Additionally, the state is steadily mobilizing extremist Islamic forces to quell the secular Baloch struggle.
Hasn’t the use of radical Islam as “strategic depth” in Afghanistan already landed us as well as our neighbors in extremist depth? Don’t we already have enough blood on our hands? The biggest threat to our sovereignty is neither India nor the US; it’s our own military extremism. We desperately and urgently need to hold our military-intelligence regime accountable, and call for an end to army rule as well as the return of all missing people in Balochistan.
The recognition of political, economic, and cultural rights for constituent regions is fundamental for any federation to survive, and is central to the functioning of a modern democracy. Yet generations of Pakistanis have been made to believe the army-backed logic that extending these rights is the vey antithesis of modern nationhood, because it is tantamount to “provincialism” and destroys Pakistani and Muslim unity. This is our fundamental problem. A positive Pakistani identity can never be based on the repression and denial of the many histories and societies that in fact embody the life and spirit of Pakistan. All we have to do is acknowledge and respect them, instead of killing and dumping them.
A version of this article was published in Express Tribune. Nosheen Ali is a visiting scholar at the Center for South Asia Studies at UC, Berkeley. To contact Nosheen, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.