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Pashtuns are being pushed towards terrorism to prevent them from catching up with the Punjabis: Aziz Baloch

The Baloch diaspora is advocating against enforced disappearances across the world (Photo: Aziz Baloch)

The Baloch diaspora has ensured that their voice is amplified across key constituencies—US Congressmen, parliaments in Europe and MPs in the UK. It is not just the right to self-determination they are talking about, the Baloch are also pursuing daily issues of enforced disappearances, killings by Death Squads and access to basic rights like water, electricity and livelihoods.

India Narrative speaks with the Canada-based Aziz Baloch, Coordinator for the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (IVBMP). One of the foremost international organisations of the Baloch people, the IVBMP is spread across Canada, Norway, Sweden, the UK, the US and Switzerland. It works in close coordination with the Balochistan-based Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) to ensure that the local action is not missed from the ground.

Aziz says that the policies by the Pakistan government are pushing the Pashtuns towards terrorism while State-sponsored religious radical groups are sent to Balochistan. Remembering provincial governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, Aziz says that saner voices in Pakistan are being silenced.

Aziz Baloch, Coordinator for the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (IVBMP)

Excerpts from the interview.

Q: Why are enforced disappearances happening on such a large scale in Pakistan? Why is the Pakistan government not doing anything about it?

Aziz: Unfortunately, it is the Government of Pakistan and its security forces that are behind the enforced disappearances that are taking place on such a large scale and with such consistency. Even in the courts, people have shown hard evidence – being picked up by security force vehicles, and the courts have given orders to act against the security forces involved in abductions. But in the end, the result is disappointing.

Sadly, the victim's families have been turned away by the Pakistani Supreme Court, parliaments, and the other so-called Pakistani democratic institutions. Peaceful protest is a right protected by the Pakistani constitution and international human rights law. But, Baloch activists who participate in such rallies themselves become victims of disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Q: Are enforced disappearances selective or can anyone be kidnapped anywhere in Pakistan?

Aziz: This practice is common in Pakistan against the Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun people and minorities. The case of Balochs and Pashtuns is completely different as the Pashtuns are being pushed towards terrorism to prevent them from catching up with the Punjabis in education and other fields. The State has involved them in extremists organisations such as the Taliban, ISIS, Jaish-e-Muhammad, etc and they are trained and sent to neighbouring countries for Jihad. On the other hand, innocent Pashtuns are targeted by the Pakistani army under the guise of an operation. 

A fact-finding mission by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) concluded that the presence of ideological extremist groups, including sympathizers of ISIS, is growing in Balochistan. While Pakistan is an ally in the "war on terror" in reality it is the opposite. So far, Pakistan's ploy has been successful, which is why the US still calls it its partner.

The Pakistani army has been promoting extraordinary violence against minorities such as Hazaras, Christians, Hindus, Shias and others. Pakistan's former provincial governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and former minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, opposed Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. In January of 2011, Taseer was shot 26 times by his bodyguard on the streets of Islamabad and two months later, Bhatti was killed when gunmen in Islamabad sprayed his car with bullets.

Q: Shehbaz Sharif recently said that he will speak with the "right quarters" about enforced disappearances. What does he mean by this, he is the Prime Minister?

Aziz: The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahbaz Sharif, has rightly said that he will talk to the "right quarters". The affairs of Baloch and Balochistan are directly looked after by the Pakistan army and the decisions are made by it. Pakistan's so-called civilian government does not interfere in these matters. The political leadership in all of Pakistan is a grand fairy tale while Balochistan is a war-torn area where everything is in the hands of the Pakistan army.

Q: Will the committee set up by the Islamabad High Court be able to help find missing persons? Will it be effective in solving the problem?

The Islamabad High Court is not capable of dealing with this issue because ex-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has tried to take a special interest in this matter but the result has been zero. If the courts were in a position to do something, thousands of Baloch would disappear without being brought before the court. The Supreme Court cannot interfere in matters relating to the Pakistani army.

Balochistan has been under the direct control of the Pakistani army where the Balochistan provincial parliament is toothless in front of the Pakistan army.

Q: Why are the Baloch being targeted in particular?

The Baloch are being made victims of collective punishment by the forces, so that they should give up their legitimate struggle for the independence of Balochistan. Pakistan wants to rule the resource-rich land of Balochistan as its colony. Since March 1948, the forceful occupation of Balochistan has been led by an iron fist. The Pakistani military establishment is actively engaged in a merciless campaign to silence Baloch who raise their voice to expose the inhuman living conditions, lack of social infrastructure and demand basic human rights such as access to clean water, health care, education, and other such public services. Pakistan has been actively profiteering from Baloch resources. In return, the Baloch people have seen nothing but striking poverty, deprivation, unfulfilled promises and five brutal military operations in Balochistan while the 5th military operation is still going on.

Children of the Baloch missing persons with photographs of their missing relatives (Photo: Aziz Baloch)

Q: What are the numbers of the Baloch people who have disappeared? What is the number of Baloch people who have been killed by Death Squads?

It is difficult to say the exact number due to difficulties. However, according to a 2019 report issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan entitled, "Balochistan: Neglected Still", Mama Qadeer Vice Chairman of the VBMP, a human rights organization led by the family members of abducted Baloch citizens, claims that "47,000 Baloch and around 35,000 Pashtuns are missing".

More than 5,000 Baloch mutilated bodies have been recovered over the years. Despite international efforts, forced disappearances and the 'kill and dump' policy by the Pakistan military is still going on in Balochistan. Pakistani security forces in their military operations have killed professors, political leaders, students, teachers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, artists, and activists. They have not spared innocent women, children, and elderly Baloch either.

Q: What do the activists or a family do when someone is kidnapped by the Pakistani military – go to the police, seek legal support, organize protests or all of these?

When Balochs citizens are abducted the police do not file an FIR. However, the police, intelligence agencies and the local government-backed authorities try to persuade them not to file a case against their loved ones. Those who insist on filing the cases, have faced harassment and abductions. Many Baloch activists, human rights defenders and students have disappeared only because they have participated in the peaceful protests for the Baloch missing people.

Q: Are the Baloch people getting support internationally over missing persons?

Aziz: Unfortunately, there is no special support. However, in the 21st century, Baloch human rights organizations, human rights activists and civil society cannot keep silent about the serious human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan. Baloch leaders and diaspora are upset at the lack of response to these atrocities on the part of the UN despite extensive evidence marshalled by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even UN working groups. A key purpose of the UN is to ensure equal rights, freedom, self-determination and independence of people. Surely the Baloch people are entitled to the moral support of the world’s foremost international body.

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