The persecution of Baloch nationalists, at the hands of the mighty Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies, cries for the attention of the UN bodies and world community. Even the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance — set up to attenuate the public demand on the Government to deliver justice to the Baloch victims — has crumbled under the indomitable Army’s pressure
The enforced disappearance of Baloch nationals — by the Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps (FC), intelligence agencies, mainly ISI and Military Intelligence — has been a burning issue for over a decade. The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBPM), the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, the Baloch Human Rights Organisation, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have been reporting enforced disappearance of the Baloch people from all walks of life.
The issue of disappearances has been occasionally raised in public and parliament by political parties, including PPP, PML(N), MQM, BNP(M), and NP (when on Opposition benches). Initially, the media and courts were vocal on the issue. When Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the apex court entertained a petition of the Balochistan Bar Council. Although, in Pakistan’s power structure, law courts are not empowered to punish the Army personnel guilty of enforced disappearance of Baloch people, the Chaudhry-headed bench exerted pressure on the Pakistan Army, FC and intelligence agencies to release missing persons and stop inhuman practice of enforced disappearances. The said petition led to a tussle between the apex court and the Pakistan Army, which resulted in the dismissal and arrest of judges by General Pervez Musharraf.
After a prolonged movement, Justice Chaudhry and all other judges were reinstated by the Government of Premier Yusuf Reza Gelani of the PPP. Soon, Justice Chaudhry took up the petition and continued hearing of cases of persecution of Baloch nationals till his retirement. But he failed to annihilate the inhuman practice of enforced disappearances by the mighty Army and spy agencies. After the retirement of Justice Chaudhry, the said petition started gathering dust. On March 1, 2011, the toothless PPP Government set up a “Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances” with the appointment of Justice (Retired) Javed Iqbal as its president and Justice (Retired) Gous Muhammad and IG police (Retired) Muhammad Sharif as its members. The commission’s ulterior aim was to avoid a clash with the indomitable Army and intelligence agencies on one hand, and on the other, to attenuate the public and international pressure on Pakistan to deliver justice to the Baloch victims.
The Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies have been using enforced disappearances as a covert policy to bear down on the Baloch freedom movement and have been vociferously disputing the reports of enforced disappearances of people. The so-called civilian Governments, apex kangaroo courts of Pakistan and commissions on enquiry have been toeing the line of the Army and intelligence agencies. The Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies, with the passage of time, extended the use of enforced disappearances in former FATA regions of Pashtunkhwa, interior Sindh, Karachi, Gilgit and Baltistan, where targets have been Pashtun and Sindhi nationalists and activists of the MQM.
The VBMP launched “Long March” from Quetta to Islamabad via Karachi to press the Pakistani authorities for recovery of missing Baloch people. Long March participants left Quetta on foot on October 27, 2013. The first phase, a 730km walk, ended in Karachi with a demonstration in front of the Press Club on November 23, 2013, while the second phase started on December 13, 2013, from Karachi and reached Islamabad on Friday 28, 2014. They tried their best to highlight the issue but could not draw the attention of biased civil society of Punjab and its media, because like other civilian institutions, the so-called civil society and media are controlled by the Army and intelligence agencies in Pakistan.
On January 13, 2018, 27-year-old Pashtun model Naqeebullah Mehsud was killed by a team lead by Senior Superintendent of Police Rao Anwar of Malir district of Karachi in a fake encounter, which led countrywide protests by Pashtuns. Later the movement was named as Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). PTM highlighted how thousands of Pashtuns from former FATA and Swat have gone missing at the hands of the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies. There are also similar reports of enforced disappearance of Sindhi nationalists, MQM activists and activists from Gilgit and Baltistan regions, but the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies have been outright denying their involvement in the incidents of enforced disappearances.
On April 16, 2018, Justice (Retired) Javed Iqbal, the head of the Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances and chairman of “National Accountability Bureau (NAB), shamelessly claimed that foreign agencies illegally apprehend people and pin the blame on the Pakistan Army, Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence. He further said that 70 per cent of the missing persons are found to be pro-military. Iqbal made these claims while briefing a meeting of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights. His statement manifests how Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances, courts and Governments are collaborating with the Army and intelligence agencies to hide their crimes against humanity.
But the truth always prevails. So despite constant denial, the Pakistan Army has eventually confessed the abduction and enforced disappearances of the people. This confession was made in a Press conference of Major General Asif Ghafoor, the Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR), on April 29, 2019. In an answer to a question of prominent journalist Hamid Mir, the DG ISPR responded, “We know you have a great attachment to missing persons (issue). We too have. We don’t want any person to go missing but where there is a war, you have to do a number of (undesirable) works. It’s said that everything is fair in love and war. War occurs to be ruthless.”
The above statement of the DG ISPR manifests:
1) There is a war in Balochistan;
2) The Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies are using enforced disappearances as a means of repression as well as a policy with a view to suppress the national freedom movement of the oppressed Baloch;
3) The DG ISPR justifies the enforced disappearances with his comments “everything is fair in love and war”.
Indeed, there is a war of liberation in Balochistan against Pakistan’s occupation, colonial rule and plundering of its natural resources. There are no provisions in the UN charters and other international laws condemning or forbidding the movement of oppressed people for their national freedom from the yoke of alien or colonial rule. Instead, there are a number of provisions in international laws and UN’s resolutions in condemnation of alien and colonial rule. Nothing can be construed from the statement of the DG ISPR, except a clear confession of the crime. Though the DG ISPR tried to justify forced disappearances by saying that everything is fair in love and war, this dictum finds no support in law.
Belligerent parties and their actions are subject to international laws. The preamble of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance maintains that enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity. Similarly, Article 1 of the said convention reads:
1) No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance;
2) No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearances;
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, part 2, Article 7(i) too enlists enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity.
Therefore, the legal position is clear that enforced disappearance is not justifiable under any pretext.
Although until now the armed conflict and human rights abuses in Balochistan have not drawn the desired attention of the UN and the world community, the increasing intensity of the crime and worsening human rights condition requires the civilised nations, UN Security Council and the prosecutor of International Criminal Court to initiate investigation against the Pakistan Army, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies for their role in the enforced disappearances and to bring them to justice.
(The writer is former Secretary General of Baloch National Movement (BNM) @BNMovement. He tweets @RahimBalochh)