Collateral Damage had the chance of interviewing Aziz Baloch on the occasion of the long march from Quetta to Karachi by Baloch activists to demand the recovery of the abducted Baloch persons. Aziz is the Canadian co-ordinator of the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons and the Vice President of the Baloch Human Rights Council of Canada.
Despite a democratic transition, military operation continues in Balochistan. Why has the Pakistani state failed to put an end to army action in the province?
Let me be clear from a Baloch perspective: this is not a democratic government and the Baloch people spoke loud and clear in the May 2013 election by boycotting it. It was not an election but simply a selection by Pakistani Army and the Frontier Corp (FC) in Balochistan.
First and foremost, we have to look at the root cause of the Balochistan issue: a forceful occupation by the Pakistan Army on March 28, 1948. Since then, the state of Pakistan has adopted a policy of oppression, injustice, and exploitation of resources at gun point. The army has launched five major military operations in Balochistan: 1948, 1958, 1960, 1973, and 2004. During this period, the first democratically elected Baloch nationalist government was dissolved by the civilian prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who also received military support by the Shah of Iran. Iran and Pakistan joined hands in the brutal military operation between 1973-77, where 5,000 Baloch died and the Pakistani military suffered 3,500 casualties.
The fifth operation took place in 2004 during the reign of the military dictator Pervez Musharraf. Pakistani intelligence agencies and the FC have been abducting Baloch activists ever since and, as of today, thousands of Baloch have been kidnapped and tortured under the kill and dump tactic of the military. Even after the 2008 elections which saw the civilian PPP government, the kill and dump policy continued against Baloch activists, journalist, lawyers, doctors, etc.
According to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a non-profit organization consisting of the families of the disappeared, over 14,000 disappearances have been noted so far and more than 700 of those have been victims of the kill and dump. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has stated that Pakistani security forces are involved in abduction and killing of Baloch people. In once case, he was shown by the police, at a Supreme Court hearing, a CCTV footage of Pakistani security forces abducting Baloch youth from a hotel and whisking them away in security marked vehicle. Later, they were extra judicially killed in custody. However, none of the security and intelligence officers have been punished by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
As you know, justice delayed is justice denied - that is what the Baloch people feel at the moment since the country’s judiciary is toothless in front of the army, and so is the democratic and civilian government.
Do you think Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch’s government will succeed in Balochistan? What are the main challenges that he faces?
Any government supported by its people through fair and free election should succeed. But the last elections were widely boycotted by the Baloch people. According to a local report, Dr. Malik Baloch got 3,000 votes out of 57,000. Such a low turnout shows that the majority in that province did not vote for him.
The rules for Dr. Malik will be dictated by the center, which is nothing new as all his predecessors have been in the same position: in the hot seat but with no say. As it has been the case throughout Pakistani history, the real power rests with Pakistan Army.
Dr. Malik’s helplessness has been evident. When he met with the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons’ representative Waja Qadeer Baloch, he promised that he will try his best to bring back the disappeared persons. Nonetheless, 126 Baloch have been extra judicially killed and many more have disappeared during his short time in power.
Another example is the recent 7.7 magnitude earthquake in Awaran, Mashky, and the Kech region of Balochistan, where victims are badly awaiting aid. BBC and Aljazeera have reported about the victims and their miserable conditions. But while Dr. Malik maybe trying his best to handle this crisis, the Pakistani Army is in charge of aid. Ban Ki-moon made a statement in New York in which he offered UN’s aid to Pakistan but there seems to be no response from Pakistan. Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross offered their help to the country but Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority rejected their assistance.
What is the reaction of Pakistani civil society and human rights groups to the ongoing crisis in Balochistan?
In the civil society, there are writers like Mohammed Hanif who have been highlighting and education people about the human rights abuses in Balochistan. His work is admirable. But, in general, the Pakistani society, its NGOs and human rights organizations are unable to prevent the abductions and killings of Baloch people. Whether the civil society of Pakistan is intentionally or unintentionally ignoring the crisis in Balochistan, I do not know.
One thing that is clear is that the international community, as well as the Pakistani society, does not know very well the ground reality in Balochistan. Therefore, it is the Baloch diaspora itself that has to act like the ambassador of the province via social media and the internet. Another reason is perhaps that Pakistani civil society groups are represented by non-Baloch and that makes them look at the issue through their own glasses.
What is your take on the attack against Punjabi migrant workers in Balochistan? Do attacks like this not harm the Baloch cause?
As a human rights activist, I do not support any killings of innocent civilians. But, I would like to point out at the same time that, for the last 64 years, no single Punjabi has been harmed in Balochistan. Even today, large number of Punjabis are living and working in Balochistan with no fear. These killings are a consequence of war, which is being waged by the Pakistani Army in Balochistan. More than 150,000 people of the Bugti and Marri tribes have been internally displaced. Towns and villages are being attacked in Makran, leaving many Baloch families homeless. Families are discovering the bodies of their loved ones hanging from trees, mutilated, with torture marks, broken bones, and popped up ribs.
In your opinion, what is the best way for the Baloch people to win more rights within the Pakistani state structure?
See, the Baloch, as a nation, are claiming that they are not part of Pakistan. They consider Balochistan a colony of Pakistan. The Pakistan Army has drafted a policy, from day one, that Balochistan should give up its identity, culture, language, land, and natural resources. Balochistan is 44% of Pakistan’s total territory, with a 770 km-long coastline, right next to the Straight of Hormuz.
In my opinion, the Baloch are not ready to compromise on the above demand.
What has been the role of the international community in face of the army action in Balochistan? What do the Baloch people expect from organizations such as the UN?
Pakistan, for decades, has been using an iron fist and terrorizing the Baloch people into giving up their legitimate rights. Internationally, the Pakistan Army is misleading the world community through the propaganda that the Baloch people are anti-state terrorists. In fact, it is the army that created religious and radical terrorist groups and death squads that are involved in the killings of minorities such as Hazara, Christians and Hindus all over Pakistan. On the other hand, the state created Al-Shams and Al-Bader death squads of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who are involved in killing the largely secular Baloch people.
I think it is the moral obligation of the international community to scrutinize a state like Pakistan which is committing crimes against humanity. They should send independent observers in Balochistan in order to look at the ground reality. The UN and the ICC should hold Pakistan accountable.
Do Baloch people still retain any hope from the Pakistani establishment or has the army action completely alienated them from Pakistan?
Those who are struggling within the Pakistani state system, such as by participating in elections, believe that autonomy or self-determination can be achieved through and within the existing system. But, we know that for decades they have been participating in elections and even became chief ministers, ministers, and senators but still their constituencies are without roads, schools, hospitals, electricity, and jobs. If anything, these corrupt Baloch politicians have only made themselves rich by being in government. These armchair Baloch politicians never admit to their own flaws and keep blaming the system, which they are willingly to be a part of at the same time.
The Baloch nation has its own land, culture, identity, language, and history. We do not expect any good from the state of Pakistan. We are fighting for an independent Balochistan. I think when a nation sacrifices its precious lives for freedom then there is no alternative left except for freedom