Balochistan, the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan, is well known for its abundant resources like natural gas, coal and minerals, its unique culture and extreme climate. Also, its location is of extraordinary geostrategic and geo-economic importance.
It was once a centre stage of the Great Game for Central Asia in the mid-19th century, between the imperial British Empire and Czarist Russia. Reportedly, it has now become a focal point of a new ‘Strategic Great Game’ being played between the Asian powers for a strong influence over Central and West Asian region.
So, Balochistan has ample reasons for being a subject of extensive media coverage globally. One would easily find media reports about various economic and political developments happening in the region, but what escapes the attention of the mainstream media is the large humanitarian crisis experienced by the people residing in it.
The people of Balochistan have for years been subjected to brutal repression by Pakistani forces. The annexation of eastern Balochistan by Pakistan after the withdrawal of the British from the Indian Subcontinent in 1948 gave rise to the Baloch independence struggle against Pakistani state. Since then, Baloch have fallen victim to forced disappearances and brutal killings by state forces and state sponsored militants.
According to pro-freedom Baloch parties and the Baloch Human Rights Organisation (BHRO), since 2001, more than 20,000 Baloch, including women and children, have been abducted, and around 6000 killed.
For years, Baloch organisations have been trying to collect and disseminate this data to the world, with limited success. In the last two months of last year, Pakistani forces reportedly conducted more than 80 military raids across Balochistan.
One of the cases that featured in all Baloch web publications was that of four women and two boys who were taken by Pakistan forces in November. The Frontier Corps (FC), Pakistan’s paramilitary force, conducted three raids in different parts of Awaran district and picked up four women — Sakina Qadir Bakhsh (52), Sayad Bibi Ahmad (47), Hamida Mir Dilbod (35) and Nazal Mir Asadullah (52). A few days before that, two minors, one of them the son of Sakina, were also picked up.
“The abduction of women has intensified tensions between nationalists and the Pakistani government.”
After 24 hours of interrogation, the four women were handed over to police and photographed with police personnel along with caches of arms and grenades. They were charged with terrorism charges. It was also reported that Hamida and Nazal were tortured during interrogation and were later shifted to a hospital. The location of the teenage boys, according to a report by BHRO on 3 December, is unknown.
According to the investigation by BHRO and the Human Rights Council of Balochistan (HRCB), the four women were picked up because their male relatives were involved in the ongoing nationalist insurgency. Security forces could not find the men during previous raids on their homes. Frustrated, they finally took away the women. Numerous Baloch political and social organisations had condemned the alleged wrongful detainment of the four women.
This is just one of several cases. The author, after having studied Baloch media reports from November 2019 to January 2020, suggests there were 30 to 40 and 60 to 70 cases of forced disappearances in November and December respectively. These disappearances also include women and children.
Also, around 20 to 30 death cases were found for the same time period, including killings of civilians by unknown gunmen and state sponsored militants for unknown reasons and in some cases by state forces, skirmishes between Baloch insurgents and Pakistani forces, and the discovery of the decomposed bodies of persons who were forcibly disappeared months before.
According to BHRO, many in Balochistan have been internally displaced due to the conflict between insurgents and the military. Frequent raids, abduction of men and burning of houses, has forced many to leave their villages. Such abducted men have later been found dead. This has also led many men to join armed groups to find shelter. The abduction of women has intensified tensions between nationalists and the Pakistani government.
The Baloch National Movement (BNM), a Baloch nationalist political party, presents a report about the atrocities against Baloch civilians for every month. According to Dil Murad Baloch of BNM while presenting a report for the month of December, BNM has been collecting and disseminating the data detailing the humanitarian crimes for years, in an attempt to get the world’s attention.
It is important that the international community takes notice of the Baloch humanitarian crisis. The UN must intervene in this conflict and investigate the actions of all entities — Pakistani state and the Baloch insurgents — in order to identify war criminals who can then be brought to justice.