In an unfortunate incident in Pakistan’s Balochistan, an officer was abducted by separatists and brutally killed in a rescue operation. Notwithstanding the deep sympathies with the officer who died young, the context of his killing raises the larger issue of violence in Balochistan which has taken thousands of innocent lives over the past few decades. The developments after the officer’s killing once again pushed the region back into the turmoil it has been trying hard to come out of. It was reported in the Pakistani media that nine terrorists, who had been responsible for the murder had been killed in the ensuing anti-terror operations. At the same time, it was claimed that those killed by the army included missing or abducted persons.
When the bodies of these nine people were brought to the hospital for identification, more doubts arose and it was alleged that five of them have been forcibly disappeared for some time. Regarding the abduction of these five people, there are cases in police stations, applications in courts as well as in the Missing Persons Commission created by the Government of Pakistan. The issue of missing persons has been there for a considerable time now as thousands of people have been forcibly disappeared, largely the Baloch, followed by the Pashtuns. Most of these areas are under the control of the armed forces of Pakistan. Coming to the the five persons killed in Ziarat and Harnai, their names are said to be in the list of Baloch missing persons, a claim all Pakistani mainstream media has continued to deny. Soon after the photographs of the dead persons surfaced, their families identified them and Baloch human rights organizations confirmed them as missing persons. Balochistan Home Minister Zia Lango also confirmed that the names of five of the nine victims were on the list of missing persons prepared by the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP). The provincial government also sought an independent probe into the killings.
Protests were held in Quetta, Gwadar and other areas in the province demanding justice for the families of the victims and against the alleged staged encounters. National Assembly Member Mohsin Dawar, Pashtun Tahafuz Moment (PTM ), Central Leader Zubair Shah Agha (extensively interviewed for the purpose of this article), Human Rights Activist Advocate Jalila Haider and other political and human rights leaders participated in this sit-in. The participants of the sit-in demand that a judicial inquiry commission should be formed to look into these killings.
According to VBMP, among the nine victims, Shams Satakzai was abducted twice in the past. Satakzai was reportedly last detained by Pakistani forces in 2017, but his family did not contact the VBMP and the Commission on Missing Persons as they expected him to be released like he had been in the past.
Another victim, identified as Shahzad Baloch of Qalat, was allegedly detained by security forces in Quetta in June 2022. Shahzad Baloch’s family filed a petition against his enforced disappearance in the VBMP’s list of missing persons and the Commission on Missing Persons. Shahzad Baloch’s brother Abdul Hameed Baloch said that he had reported the disappearance of his brother in the Missing Persons Commission and held press conferences and demonstrations for his brother’s safe release, but to no avail and they were handed over the tortured body. They contacted the government and the police but their grievances went unheard. The thrid was Dr. Mukhtiar Baloch, who was also picked up from Quetta in June. The fourth victim, Salim Baloch, was allegedly picked up midway from Panjgur to Quetta. Another victim, Shah Bakhsh Marri, has also been identified as a missing person, but full details are yet to emerge.
Both, Baloch and Pashtun activists, politicians and student organizations have raised this issue, demanding impartial and complete judicial inquiry into the Ziarat incident. Pakistan’s interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan has directed the government officials to investigate the Ziarat-Harnai incident. Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) Central Chairman Manzoor Pashteen condemned the incident and wrote in his tweet that the killing of innocent Baloch missing persons is condemnable. He stated that “war on terror” is based on such narratives, claiming many lives. Student leader and activist Mehrang Baloch tweeted that “[this incident] is a slap in the face to political parties and people who think that parliament and judiciary are independent… you are all equally complicit…”
The tragedy of Ziarat and Harnai is a continuation of the ‘bloody trail’ of assassinations of youngsters. And there has been a sharp increase in the disappearance of youth in the last two decades. There are also thousands of young Baloch youths and there is a suspicion among the families of these Baloch persons that their youths will also be killed by the armed organizations of Pakistan and later they will be declared as terrorists. While a large scale socio-economic upliftment program would be suited in the long term, impartial investigations into these killings is the need of the hour.
Images owned by the author.