Islamabad: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) launched on Thursday the report of a fact-finding it had conducted in Balochistan. An HRCP mission had visited the province from May 15 to 19 in order to assess the impact of the recent measures by the government with respect to the province and to hear suggestions from the stakeholders on a way out of the lingering crisis there.
The fact-finding mission met members of the executive, representatives of political parties, civil society organisations, relatives of missing persons, religious and ethnic minority communities, businessmen, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students and senior government officials. The full report is available online at: http://www.hrcp-web.org/pdf/Balochistan%20Report%202012.pdf
The team held meetings in Quetta, Mastung and Pishin. HRCP Core Group coordinators in districts Bolan, Chaghi, Gwadar, Harnai, Jafarabad, Jhal Magsi, Kalat, Lasbela, Mastung, Naseerabad, Nushki, Panjgur, Pasni, Pishin, Qilla Abdullah, Qilla Saifullah, Sibbi, Turbat, Zhob and Ziarat travelled to Quetta and briefed the fact-finding team on the prevailing situation in their respective areas.
Chairperson Zohra Yusuf led the five-day (May 15-19) fact-finding team that also comprised HRCP provincial vice-chairpersons Tahir Hussain Khan (Balochistan), Sher Muhammad Khan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Amarnath Motumal (Sindh), HRCP Executive Council members Asma Jahangir, Zahoor Ahmed Shahwani and Habib Tahir, journalists Arifa Noor and Amir Mateen, novelist Muhammad Hanif and academic Prof. Azizuddin Ahmed. HRCP Secretary General I.A. Rehman, Hussain Naqi and Najam U Din from HRCP Secretariat and HRCP Quetta office coordinator Farid Ahmed were also part of the fact-finding mission.
The mission was of the considered opinion that if there was a genuine will and commitment to find solutions, the numerous challenges in Balochistan could be addressed. It was plain to see by that the strategy that the government had pursued in the province had not worked. Maintaining the same course was about the worst thing that could be done if the objective was to improve the situation.
The fact-finding team made the following observations:
1. In many fundamental respects the situation had not changed in Balochistan since HRCP’s last fact-finding mission to the province in 2011. Enforced disappearances continued in Balochistan as did dumping of bodies and impunity for the perpetrators. Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies were generally believed to be involved in enforced disappearance of people. In some cases their involvement had been proved beyond doubt. Failure to punish the perpetrators or to probe that involvement in a meaningful way was aggravating the situation. The law and order situation had worsened and sectarian killings increased in all districts.
2. However, there were some positive changes, each with a caveat, which offered hope for improvement in Balochistan’s situation. The Supreme Court hearings in Quetta had certainly had a positive impact, although it remained to be seen if the impact would endure. The mission found youth and political activists were more willing to talk and more keen to engage in efforts to resolve the crises politically. Sincerity and reciprocity were needed to avail the opportunity. There was keen awareness that change was vital and a lot of people looked towards the forthcoming elections to deliver that change. If free and fair elections were held progressive elements were expected to participate. Some nationalists might not contest but others would. If the nationalists became part of the government things were generally expected to improve. However, lawlessness made preparation for the elections difficult for nationalist parties, many of which had constituencies in insurgency-hit districts. There were apprehensions that elections might be rigged and demands were made for national and international monitors for the elections. Law and order had prevented many parliamentarians from visiting their constituencies. As of now, the people only got a chance to go to elections once every decade. There was a general feeling that if there was genuine democracy Balochistan’s woes could have been minimised.
3. There were multiple layers of violence and tension in Balochistan. Law and order was a problem that cast a long shadow on all aspects of life. The crime wave that had engulfed urban Balochistan and the main highways was either a mark of collusion or utter incompetence of the authorities. The government, law enforcement and security agencies had completely failed to deal with militant / insurgent, sectarian and criminal elements.
4. Kidnappings for ransom had become a profitable enterprise. No perpetrator had been arrested or tried. It was difficult to see how the kidnappers could operate despite heavy security deployment. The conclusion that most people reached in Balochistan was that the criminals had not been arrested because they enjoyed the patronage of the authorities. The provincial home minister had spoken of fellow cabinet members’ involvement in this crime but no action was taken. Questions were raised as to who would give protection to the people, to the Hazaras, non-Muslims and to truck drivers who pooled money to pay ransom.
5. The problems in Balochistan had long been looked at in the perspective of a Baloch insurgency and Baloch rights. There was a need to have a holistic look at all the problems in Balochistan, including those faced by a substantial Pakhtun population, the Hazaras, non-Muslims and settlers as well as economic and livelihood issues in the province.
6. There were complaints of the state’s inability or unwillingness to protect the lives of religious minorities as well as members of some Muslim sects. Killings and harassment of the settler population by the insurgents had led to the settlers shifting to Pakhtun-majority areas or to leave the province altogether. Target killings and crime on the basis of religious and ethnic identity of the victims had grown. The continued persecution of Hazaras was as ruthless as it was unprecedented. The people the mission met said that if the authorities had the commitment to stop the killings or punish those responsible the killings could not have expanded in the manner that they had. Questions were raised about absence of ability or willingness on part of the government to protect the people from faith-based violence as well as its lack of priorities. Heightened threats including kidnappings for ransom had forced Hazaras, non-Muslims, settlers and wealthy people to migrate to other parts of the country and even abroad.
7. Talibanisation was growing in several areas. Unlike the past, religious fanaticism was not merely being exported to the province from elsewhere. It was now being bred in Balochistan. A growing network of madrassas had contributed to aggravation of inter-sect tensions. There were fears that the security forces were patronizing militants and Quetta was being turned into a haven for militants. There were said to be militants’ training camps in the province.
8. Aspiring irregular migrants from or passing through Balochistan took great risks in their quest for a brighter future and the human smugglers were only too happy to exploit them. Little was being done to address the reasons that forced people to migrate.
9. Unlike the past, the insurgents had systematically targeted infrastructure and development work.
10. Despite the government’s oft-voiced desire for a political solution to the crisis in Balochistan no progress had been made on engaging through talks the nationalist elements in Balochistan. Even preparatory steps towards that end remained lacking.
11. The state abdicating its basic responsibility and NGOs retreating for fear of abduction of their staff had further aggravated the crises. The government and development agencies had abandoned the troubled areas. Healthcare and education were neglected. Many good teachers had migrated. An insurgency in parts of the province did not justify the state ignoring the people’s health, sanitation and other basic needs and infrastructure, which were not affected by the ongoing strife. There were places in the province where the people, irrespective of their ethnicity, survived in conditions that were not far removed from the Stone Age. Alleviating their problems was no one’s priority.
12. The provincial government was nowhere to be seen in the crises. The chief minister was away from the province for a lot of time and the provincial government held meetings regarding Balochistan outside the province. The provincial government seemed to have earned a lot of discredit in a short span of time. In probably the only example of its kind, all but one member of the provincial assembly was in the cabinet. After the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award, more funds had certainly become available to Balochistan but those did not seem to have trickled down. A general observation was that corruption had spiked by the same margin.
13. The government had shown little interest in shoring up sagging economic activity and businesses. The industry had collapsed, natural resources had not been tapped nor the requisite expertise created and agriculture that was the mainstay of a large part of the provincial economy was in ruins because of drought-like conditions and lack of irrigation water amid plummeting water table, debilitating electricity shortages and absence of delay-action dams.
14. The total electricity need of Balochistan was very small compared to the needs of the other provinces. Yet the people in the province faced excessive electricity suspension. The people demanded that the government should accept an Iranian offer to supply 1,000 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan and use the same in Balochistan.
15. There was a widespread feeling that the national media had abandoned Balochistan and not given as much coverage to the events and incidents as their importance demanded. Even when whole cities were shut down during a strike the media did not report that. Journalists in the field felt threatened from the security forces, militants and insurgents. The people in the districts affected by the insurgency in general and journalists in particular felt like hostages. If they said one thing they were traitors to one side and if they did not they were traitors to the other side. The stories that the journalists did file were often covered only in Balochistan editions of publications by national level media organisations. That prevented the people elsewhere in Pakistan from getting the true picture of the situation in the province.
16. Members of the mission were shocked at the glut of sophisticated firearms in Balochistan and the people’s easy access to them. It defied belief that huge quantities of weapons could pass through a series of check-posts when the common citizen was stopped even for carrying a knife. Had there been sincere efforts to curtail the free flow of weapons they would certainly have made a difference.
17. The people generally expressed faith in the Levies force because of it being a local force. Police was not well respected.
18. All investigations in Balochistan today seemed to end as soon as claims of responsibility were made by one militant or insurgent organisation or the other. It was a free for all and in cases of target killings or even common crime any investigation or prosecution worth the name was generally missing.