UN panel spotlights disappearances in Balochistan

 UN team examines alleged abuses – Hundreds of bodies dumped in Balochistan 

QUETTA: For years, human rights groups had hoped that Western governments might lead an international outcry over a little-known epidemic of abductions, torture and murder in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. They were disappointed.

Instead, relatives of the missing are placing their faith in a visiting UN team to highlight allegations that security forces are waging a campaign of mass disappearances aimed at silencing calls for the Baloch independence. “How many will they kill?” said Yousuf Baloch, who found the mutilated body of his son, Asif, last year, several months after he was taken away in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital. “I’m not going to accept Pakistan as my country. I’ll keep longing for an independent Balochistan.”

Overshadowed by a US-funded campaign against Taliban on the northwestern frontier with Afghanistan, the conflict between separatists and the state in Balochistan receives scant outside attention, even within Pakistan itself.

The military has repeatedly denied committing abuses, blaming the killings on an array of militant groups active in the resource-rich province that borders both Afghanistan and Iran.

But human rights groups have gathered extensive evidence from relatives of the disappeared that raises serious questions over the conduct of a security establishment that has received billions of dollars in US military aid since 2001.

The arrival of the UN delegation last week kindled hopes in the province that the disappearances will finally start to gain global attention, but stirred controversy in Islamabad, where outside discussion of the province is considered taboo.

“If the UN has taken the pains to send a team to Pakistan, it means the world now knows what’s going on,” said Asif Baloch, a former student activist. “At least the news is out.”

The delegation was sent by a panel on enforced disappearances set up by the Geneva-based United Nations Commission on Human Rights and arrived in Pakistan last week. Led by a French law professor, the team’s mission is primarily to gather information on cases of disappearances and serve as a conduit between relatives and the government.

Nevertheless, families of the missing gathered ahead of its arrival in Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, on Saturday to urge the UN to take action to bring their loved ones home. Even as the delegation began its tour of Pakistan, news of more disappearances reached Quetta.

On Wednesday, two days after the UN mission arrived in Islamabad, residents in southern Balochistan said security forces had taken away two more men in vehicles.

Baloch National Voice, a monitoring group, said another 14 men were detained at a military checkpoint on Friday. The bodies of six of them, all bearing gunshot wounds, have since been discovered, the group said. It added that the dead men had been blindfolded and their hands tied behinds their backs.

Baloch activists say the grisly trail is evidence of a state-backed “kill-and-dump” policy designed to intimidate separatist guerrillas and their sympathisers. The activists say several thousand people are still missing, though provincial authorities put the figure at several dozen. Security forces deny committing abuses and say insurgents sometimes don military uniform before kidnapping people. “Criminals must be acted against and brought before the law,” Major General Obaidullah Khan, head of the Frontier Corps, the main security agency in Balochistan, said in a recent interview in Quetta.

Army officers say the separatists have killed hundreds of what are termed “settlers” from other parts of Pakistan, in particular Punjab, the country’s most populous province and the home of many of the military’s generals. reuters

Courtesy: Daily Times

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