On the occasion of Pakistan’s 73rd Independence Day, it is time to discuss a topic that is rarely discussed by Pakistanis: Baluchistan and the continued excesses, deaths and forced disappearances in that province.
In the words of a former editor of a leading Pakistani newspaper it falls into the category of ‘known unknowns’: “Known because almost every Pakistani knows exactly what these reasons are and unknown because it’s deemed unhealthy to mention those openly so, like the proverbial elephant in the room, they go unacknowledged.”
According to Abbas Nasir, “deaths and disappearances, of the enforced kind in particular, in Balochistan do not seem to gain much traction in the media.” But he uses the rest of his column to highlight one recent death, that of Hayat Baloch. “This last Thursday, Hayat Baloch was working on a farm, harvesting dates with his father Ma’azar Mohammed, a social worker and a small dates trader, when just before noon, passing paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) vehicles were targeted by an IED explosion on a road adjacent to the date farm. His father’s protestations were ignored. He was tied up, carried to the road outside, dumped on the ground and shot dead. Shortly afterwards, FC personnel, who fanned out in the area, allegedly entered the farm and started roughing up Hayat and accusing him of being complicit in the explosion, ignoring his father’s protestations that the young man had not left his side since early that morning. They later tied him up before carrying him off to the road outside the farm, where they dumped him on the ground before one of the FC men in plainclothes fired shots at him from his service rifle and abandoned him bleeding from gunshot wounds. He was dead before any medical aid could be provided. Hayat’s brother was at work when he was alerted to the tragedy and rushed to the site. Later, the family lodged the FIR in which the whole incident is detailed. The father and the mother also say they recognise the killer and can identify him.”
As Nasir notes, “Incidents such as this one happen all the time in far-flung areas and seldom tickle the fancy of the members of the Fourth Estate as they seem bogged down in an existential fight, a debilitating struggle merely to keep their head above water.”
Whether it is Naqeebullah Mehsud or Hayat Baloch, such incidents “somehow find their way into the public domain. For each of these, there are dozens which happen in remote parts unreported; where they find mention these are mostly based on just the official version of events.”
Finally, while “some of the proxy armed groups seem to have been shut down by the authorities but continued disappearances and excesses by law-enforcement forces need to be reined in too. Brutality can rarely be the route to winning lasting peace.”