QUETTA: As details of the ‘kill and dump’ policy pour in before the Supreme Court, the atrocities in Balochistan seem much graver than realised earlier.
The brutal torture of thousands of accused Baloch; the illegal captivity of many more in untraced dungeons; the trauma of the families who are not sure if their loved ones will ever return in one piece; the dumping of over 350 mutilated bodies mostly on barren roadsides may perhaps be the biggest organised carnage that we accomplished since 1971. The Bangladesh reference may not be out of place as Pakistan Army, this time under a democratic dispensation, is once again in denial of this targeted butchery.
Once again, the establishment is hell bent to resolve through naked power what is essentially a case of political and economic deprivation. Once again, tit-for-tat killings for the targeted murder of around 200 settlers and 400 “others” are taking place to deter the ‘raw-sponsored insurgents.’ Once again, the state is bent upon matching miscreants in tactics without following the rule of law in avenging the killings of its 200 policemen and 234 Frontier Corps (FC) officials in the last four years.
Once again, civil institutions and the larger public are being kept out of the loop on what is being decided about the province that constitutes 44 percent of Pakistan.
Scores of innocent may also have died along the way as the security agencies, particularly the ISI, were given the power of the ‘judge, jury and the hangman’. We do not know who knew what and how it was decided to get tough with the ‘insurgents.’ What we know is that the civilian leadership was not consulted on this. We also know that the go-ahead to ‘kill and dump’ bodies in Balochistan was given in the beginning of 2010.
It was an institutional decision taken in the wake of increased targeted killings — on average 300 annually between 2008 and 2011. The killing of 113 settlers in 2010 was the highest number in a decade. Police also suffered heavy casualty with 48 officials killed and 102 injured, not to forget the killing of 81 Hazaras, Shias, Christians and Hindus.
The attacks on security forces shot to 77 incidents in which 34 FC officials died in 2010. The feeling in the army was they were losing out to saboteurs, particularly in trouble spots like Quetta, Kalat and Makran. Dr Allah Nazar’s Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) was getting stronger in Awaran and Panjgoor whereas Brahamdagh Bugti’s Balochistan Republican Army (BRA) was stepping up insurgency in Dera Bugti. This provoked the killing spree.
Voice for Missing Baloch persons claim that over 400 people were killed in a span of two years. However, the official figure which is endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is around 350 mutilated bodies. And still counting.
Quetta alone saw 57 bodies being dumped, 50 of them Baloch. Kalat was another killing field where 29 mutilated bodies were found on roadsides, dumpsters but never far enough to go unnoticed. Makran was relatively calm in 2010 with nine bodies recovered but the figure shot to 52 the next year. All those killed were Baloch. The year 2011 saw 44 bodies found in Quetta, 75 in Kalat, 54 in Makran, 12 in Nasirabad and five in Sibi. Some relatives of those killed have kept videos of the bodies to use as evidence. The images are, to say the least, hideous. It is obvious that our forces have acquired expertise in torture that one comes across only in Hollywood movies.
The edifice of the ‘kill and dump’ rationale is woven around flawed narratives. The most common ground is that these elements are supported by enemies, particularly India; that Army had to retaliate when attacked to keep up morale and, finally, this was to deter the “enemy” which was killing “our men” ferociously.
Army people will not say anything on record but in my background discussions with highest ranks not only do they own it but also justify it. One senior officer actually sought credit for restoring order. He was over zealous in his urge to purge the society and his team was not far behind him in his jihadi approach. He believed that the killing had deterred the ‘enemy’ pointing out at the decreasing number of targeted deaths. The numbers did come down for a while in 2011 but shot up to the same level later. It was obvious that he could not see the ramifications of the state stooping down to the level of saboteurs in tactics. Lawyer Intezar Mehdi rightly points out that it is the same old tendency of our army gloating over its “tactical victory at the cost of larger strategy. It happened in the case of first Kashmir then Kargil.”
Even if the situation stabilises the extrajudicial killings of this scale will always have consequences. Human rights activist and lawyer Sardar Tahir Ahmad aptly comments that the state has to have a semblance of law even if it is biased and partial. “This is how the British fought the Irish rebels for over a century,” he said. “Laws could be dubious but nevertheless laws.”
Demons of this strategy are already keeping the otherwise subsiding rebellion aflame. It has also left behind a blazing trail of tragedy that will enrich the Baloch folklore about resistance for many generations.
The generals have a point about civil structures being inadequate to handle an urgency. Surely, the prosecution is deeply handicapped in proving charges against the insurgents. Police officers have been found investigating criminals in masks lest they might be targeted later. Lawyers, judges are scared. People are afraid to come out in the absence of a witness protection programme. But the state can always have more special laws and courts to deal with the situation. Even the narrative about Indian involvement may not have enough evidence. Many agree that the insurgents are not so advanced in tactics and mainly rely on crude mines. The element of revenge cannot be ruled out. IGFC Lt General Obaid Khattak in his recent meeting with his civilian counterparts has reportedly reacted sharply over the Supreme Court’s activism. “Why doesn’t the courts take up suo moto action when FC men die,” he is believed to have said.
Perhaps he and his fellow generals started articulating the real thinking behind their policies instead of flatly refuting any involvement in the face of massive evidence. May be they have better arguments. The real for the SC is to make the Army speak up its mind. Peace cannot be restored until truth is spoken no matter how bitter it may be.