International Law and the Problem of Non-combatants, Civilians in the Baloch War of Independence

Civilians in the Baloch War of Independence

By Ali Qambar

Pakistani media always allege that Baloch freedom fighters are engaged in serious human rights violations by targeting non-combatant settlers and non-Baloch civilians in Balochistan. They go to the extent of calling it “ethnic cleansing” of non-Baloch population in Balochistan.  The Baloch freedom fighters reject this claim as state propaganda and a pretext to carry out more military operations by maligning the Baloch struggle for independence, based on historic facts and legalities under international law.

In 2014, Dr. Allah Nizar Baloch, the most respected intellectual-cum-guerrilla commander, in an interview with Tarek Fatah, a Toronto-based columnist, explained, “I am not a terrorist and we are not terrorists. We are fighting for our freedom and our struggle is based on the international law.”  Let us deliberate on the matter.

In a war of liberation, an occupying power always tries to present the rightful opposition to occupation as terrorism. The oppressed is presented falsely as backward, savage, terrorist and violator of human rights. And by doing so, the oppressor sets the stage in the eyes of the international community to justify occupation, oppression and atrocities carried out by the occupying power in the occupied territory. The state machinery and the wealth plundered from the subjugated people are used to conduct the overall operations in order to maintain control and prolong the unjust occupation.

Today, the Pakistani media as part of the state machinery is viciously engaged in a propaganda war against the liberation movement in the occupied Balochistan. The Pakistani state portrays Baloch freedom fighters as “miscreants – alienated Baloch – separatists – terrorists” to malign the true history of a people in struggle for rights and freedom. The case against the Baloch armed resistance as highlighted in the Pakistani press involves baseless accusations of carrying out a campaign of targeting Punjabi settlers in Balochistan. The press alleges that Baloch fighters attack innocent, non-combatant, non-Baloch civilians in Balochistan.  It is understandable that Pakistani media is supporting the state; however, such allegations are totally unfounded and baseless.

Pakistan occupied Balochistan in 1948. Since then the Baloch nation has resisted the unlawful occupation with armed uprisings and political struggles that have continued to date.  In all cases, Pakistan army was used to brutally crush the nationalist movement resulting in the militarization of Balochistan and complete ban on the political process.  Besides military means, there are other state machineries which underpin the Pakistani rule over Balochistan.

Along with the Pakistan army, the notorious Frontier Corps (FC), Makran Constabulary, Police, Levies and intelligence agencies have established basses, check posts, and surveillance networks in the universities, towns, tribal areas, sea ports, and energy-sensitive installations such as Sui in the Bugti area. Testing of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and WMDs in Chaghai area is part of the grand design to control, exploit and suppress the local populace in the province.

The already precarious situation in Balochistan has been further complicated by the state-sponsored use of religious card against Baloch nationalists. A number of proxy organizations and non-state actors are now actively involved in the targeted killings and enforced disappearances of Baloch leaders, intellectuals, students, and commoners.

Pakistani state-sponsored Talibanization is part of the counterinsurgency measures to contain the rising Baloch nationalism. It has led to the creation of militant jihadi outfits backed by the state now involved in secretive operations along with the FC and the army in Balochistan. Nifaz-e-Amn-e-Balochistan, Sipah-e-Shuhda-e-Balochistan, and Balochistan Musallah Difaei Tanzeem are a few examples of the ISI-founded groups targeting the Baloch resistance in addition to the ISIS chapter in Balochistan who call themselves the Lashkar-e-Khorasan.  These organizations operate openly at the behest of the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies and have openly claimed killing of Baloch activists. They publicly circulate their literature, do wall chalking, and terrorize local residents.  They have issued religious fatwas (decrees) against Baloch secular organizations, Zikis, and writers, intellectuals, target-killed educationists, forcefully shut down girl’s schools, and attacked women with acid on their faces. They are also responsible for carrying out genocide of Shia Hazaras and Baloch Zikri Community in Balochistan. Baloch freedom fighters have always countered such forces. However, ISIS presence in the region can change the scene forever in favor of Islamist terrorists if international community does not help Baloch organizations to resist their notorious agendas.

Other than extremist proxies, there are intelligence agencies that operate as civilians undercover of the army operations. Those who abduct Baloch activists are always in plain clothes and are protected by heavy Frontier Corps contingents. It should also be noted that they have recruited a large number of Baloch civilian informants to spy on political activities and organizations.  They often come in open armed confrontation with freedom fighters resulting in casualties from both sides.  In such a scenario, these civilian informants cannot be categorized as non-combatants.

Since 2003, when the fifth war of liberation started, Baloch freedom fighters have claimed responsibility of killings many intelligence agency operatives. When Baloch freedom fighters attack such operatives, there emerges a hue and cry in the state media that Baloch fighters, labelled as miscreants, have killed innocent civilian Punjabi settlers in order to defame the genuine Baloch movement internationally. The same media never broadcasts news of Pakistani forces’ grave human rights violations during its un-ending military operations in Balochistan. They are totally blind to recovery of mutilated bodies of Baloch missing persons abducted by Pakistani forces and killed extra-judicially in the torture chambers. Similarly there are millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), especially from Marri and Bugti areas who have migrated to other parts of Balochistan. But there is hardly any news about them in the mainstream Pakistani media.

The media play of the killing of non-combatant Punjabi settlers is a farce and manufactured by the state to degrade the Baloch resistance as terrorism. Non-combatant is a term in the law of war  describing  civilians  who are not taking a direct part in hostilities, persons such as medical personnel and military chaplains who are member of the armed forces, but are protected because of their specific duties (as described in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, adopted in June 1977), and personnel who are hors de combat (“outside the fight”); i.e., sick, wounded, detained, or otherwise disabled. The law does not say that anyone who is in plain clothes is a non-combatant. Baloch resistance comply the principles of war sketched out in the Geneva Convention. They have waged a war of liberation against Pakistan’s illegal occupation because the international law allows it and justifies war to defend a nation against whom aggression has been committed.

Baloch intellectuals, writers, politicians, human rights defenders and journalists should be concerned with the anti-Baloch narrative of Pakistani media and establishment. It is their duty to team up with plans to counter Pakistani establishment’s moves so that international community has access to the truth about the Baloch struggle for freedom.

There is urgent need to widen the outreach to the civilized world to garner support for Balochistan’s just cause by exposing Pakistani atrocities in Balochistan. International community has moral obligations to pressurize Pakistan to end genocide of the Baloch people and withdraw its forces from the occupied territory. This could pave the way for a peaceful settlement of Balochistan’s conflict and win freedom for a nation facing eminent danger of a full blown genocide.

The writer is affiliated with Baloch cause since 2000. He is a journalist from Balochistan and tweets on ali_kambar.

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