Why does ISI fear an old man and a Baloch girl so much?

Lahore University of Management Sciences cancels talks on disappearances even as Amnesty International sees an element of racism.

 |  10-minute read |   12-04-2015
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Spies in uniform, Pakistan's real rulers, Thursday prevented two key human rights advocates from Balochistan, direct victims to ISI policy of enforced disappearances, from speaking at the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences in the capital of Punjab province. The LUMS was founded during the military regime of late dictator general Zia-ul Haq by Punjabi businessman and chairman of Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan Limited Syed Babar Ali, who is now 88. A main goal of the LUMS is to groom the next generation of mainly Punjabi leaders to rule over Pakistan.

According to Philim Kine, deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch in New York, the ISI ordered the April 8 event, "Unsilencing Balochistan," shut down shortly after ISI personnel visited the LUMS. "The justification? Human rights in the embattled province of Balochistan "is a sensitive issue and […] the [event] could be used to malign Pakistan," according to the spy agency. Kine, who is a former journalist, added, "If the ISI is acting as if it has something to hide, that's because it does."

All the speakers at the cancelled event are luminaries in their own right. In addition to Mama Qadeer, 72, who is acting chair of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons and Farzana Majeed, 29, who is general secretary of the VBMP, leading intellectuals like I.A. Rehman, director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; Rashid Rahman, chief editor of The Daily Times; Mir Mohammed Ali Talpur, intellectual and Baloch freedom advocate, whose ancestors once ruled Sindh; Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, professor of history at Quaid-i-Azam University and critic of Pakistan army control of politics; and Sajjad Changezi, a field manager of the educational advocacy non-profit named Alif Ailaan.

"Such cancellation is a gross violation of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of information, academic freedom and political pluralism," staff and students of LUMS said in a statement Thursday. "Pakistan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees these fundamental freedoms and rights. These rights are also guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan," they added. However, fear of the ISI is such that LUMS students who protested the cancellation were seen with their faces covered by posters in pictures released on the social media.

Mama Qadeer's son Jalil Reki, who was spokesperson for the Baloch Republican Party, was abducted February 13, 2009 from Quetta, capital of Balochistan, and his badly mutilated body was recognized November 24, 2011, two days after it was found inTurbat, home town of chief minister Abdul Malik. In an interview in Dawn with Mohammed Hanif, one of the few Pakistani journalists who has spoken out loud and clear on Balochistan, Qadeer said his son's left hand was "Broken and swollen. His whole right arm had been burnt badly. His entire back was covered with clusters of tiny marks, not sure if they were cigarette burns. There were three bullets in and around his heart. Although he had been killed two or three days earlier, his body was fresh. Like a martyr's."Qadeer, also did an unusual thing for political education of his grandson, who was four years of age when his father was forcibly abducted. The minor boy had been crying for his dad's return. Qadeer took him close to the dead man's body, removed the shroud and told him exactly what Pakistan had done to his dad. Qadeer also got an FIR lodged against the then ISI chief Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha, during whose reign Osama bin Laden was found in Islamabad by the Americans.

Farzana Majeed, a heroine of the Baloch struggle, is sister of Zakir Majeed, a leader of the Baloch Students Organization Azad, whose fate remains unknown ever since he was forcibly disappeared by the ISI on June 8, 2009 from Mastung. According to journalist Hanif, Farzana Majeed has given up on the state of Pakistan and its people. "Isn't it quite obvious that they hate us Baloch people?" Hanif quoted her as saying in an article in The Express Tribune.

In fact, Punjabi racism appears to be a factor in the Baloch plight in Balochistan. At an event organized by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and the Baluchistan House at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, T. Kumar, director of international advocacy at the Amnesty International in Washington DC, corroborated what Farzana Majeed said. "There is an element of racism here," T. Kumar said. Lamenting the tsunami of serious human rights violations bedeviling the Baloch in Balochistan for 50 years, Kumar pointed out the Baloch and the rest of Pakistan have the "same religion, but different ethnicity."

The Baloch activists also faced racism on the streets of Punjab 15 months ago. As Mama Qadeer and Farzana Majeed and a group of Baloch women and children embarked on an epic long march on foot of nearly 1,350 miles, first from Quetta to Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi and then from Karachi to capital Islamabad, most of the Pakistani media looked the other way. During their long trek, that saw the feet of the marchers blistered and oozing with blood, they were warmly received in Sind towns and cities but faced highly hostile reception in Punjab, including threats and abuses. Just last month, the two VBMP activists, along with a young girl named Faiqa Baloch, were not allowed to board a plane from Karachi for New York where they were invited to speak at a conference. Pakistani authorities told them their names were on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Faiqa's Baloch journalist father Haji Abdur Razzak, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, became a victim of enforced disappearance March 24, 2013, killed and his body dumped five months later. Apparently, the ISI does not only want to keep people in New York in the dark about Balochistan, but their acts are so downright brutal, anti-human and unimaginable in cruelty that they fear even their own Punjabi brethren in the city of Lahore might revolt against them if they come to know the true story from members of victim families.

Prior to assuming office, premier Main Nawaz Sharif, who hails from Lahore, had promised to turn a new leaf in Balochistan, but what he has actually done has added more salt to Balochistan wounds. Sharif's new government passed the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, which has legalized enforced and involuntary disappearances in Balochistan with retrospective effect. The law provides immunity to Pakistani spooks of the ISI and Military Intelligence as if they behaved like "Good Samaritans" by carrying out "good faith" enforced disappearances, torture and execution style killings of Baloch activists in Balochistan.

"These steps perpetuate a troubling culture of impunity in Pakistan, casting grave doubts on the government's seriousness about ensuring justice and protecting human rights," HRW's Kine said. He cited an official report of the Balochistan Home and Tribal Affairs Department, released July 2014, that admitted authorities had recovered the bodies of 800 people killed in Balochistan over the past three-and-a-half years, the majority of who were ethnic Baloch "political workers." However, Baloch human rights defenders contest the official figure and say more than 2,000 Baloch were killed and dumped by the ISI, Military Intelligence, Frontier Corps, in the length and breadth of Balochistan.

Kine deplored that despite clear rulings from the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2013 demanding justice for victims, as well as recommendations from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2012, Islamabad has done little to meet its obligations under the Pakistan Constitution and international law to prevent enforced disappearances. The HRW official also deplored Pakistan failed to provide any reparations to victims, including the families of the disappeared.Kine demanded of Pakistan's government and its security forces, including the ISI, to focus on thoroughly investigating Balochistan's terrifying epidemic of disappearances and other abuses rather than stifling public discussion of such urgent issues.

Amnesty's T Kumar said the number of people who were disappeared and the way they were disappeared in broad daylight in full view of the public, without the perpetrators bothering to conceal their identities, showed enforced disappearances enjoyed state blessings. He urged the international community to keep ending enforced disappearances as a top priority.

Kumar also raised the issue of end use of US weapons for Pakistan. He recalled that the human rights violationsin Balochistan took a turn for the worse when former dictator and coup leader General Pervez Musharraf took power. Though some Pakistanis called Musharraf the Pinochet of Pakistan, he was the favorite US dictator. Augusto Pinochet practised enforced disappearances to the maximum, according to human rights practitioners. Enforced disappearances was recognized as a serious human rights issue when lawyers in Chile noted in the 1970s that some of the prisoners they were representing simply disappeared while in custody of Pinochet's security forces, according to the Human Rights Advocacy and the History of Human Rights Standards, of the University of Michigan.

Kumar said Pakistan military under the command of Musharraf used "US supplied bunker busting bombs and listening devices," meant for fighting al Qaeda, to kill Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, chief of the largest Bugti tribe,who was a former governor and chief minister of Balochistan. Bugti was assassinated on August 26, 2006 on the instructions of Musharraf, who to this day openly defends the killing with total impunity. He regretted Pakistan could do whatever it wanted in Balochistan simply because the main interest of the US was getting help from Islamabad on the so-called war on terror. Just last week, the US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf defended the supply of new weapons to Pakistan to help fight terror, even though Baloch activists fears these weapons will be used against their secular people.

Meanwhile, a scholar affiliated with US based think-tank, RAND Corporation, which many analysts believe plays a lead role in US security and intelligence planning, has indicated that Washington may open its eyes and ears on Balochistan affairs and the US could play a bigger role to stop ongoing atrocities on political activists and youths in Balochistan in the near future.

In addition to T. Kumar and many other western analysts, RAND's senior political scientist Peter Chalk, PhD, also spoke at the Palace of Nations event in Geneva titled "Buried Human Rights, Global Geopolitics and Regional Repercussions: Balochistan in the Shadows." Chalk's presentation came at a time when there are great expectations the new US defence secretary Ashton B. Carter, who is said to be allergic to the idea of US cozying up with the rogue army of Pakistan, may step up to help Balochistan pro-actively. The Business Standard cited Chalk as saying, "At least until now the US is being dependent on Pakistan support in the global war on terror particularly rooting out foreign elements from the tribal belt and therefore has not pushed a strong international response to what Pakistan is doing in Balochistan; that may change as Pakistan strategic importance to the United States falls on following the withdrawal from Afghanistan."

One of the speakers at the panel discussion at LUMS, Prof Aasim Sajjad Akhtar wrote in Dawn Friday."For most of us the Baloch 'problem' is an inconvenient fact; it troubles us because it is like festering sore that never goes away, yet it never becomes the central concern of the intelligentsia, media and mainstream political circles."

The LUMS administrators, who buckled down under ISI pressure and cancelled the talk, include liberal, whiskey-loving Punjabis – the Aman ki Asha types, who want to eat the cake and have it too, that is, talk for peace with India, but favour jihad in Kashmir. As they are Punjabis, they have close relatives in the ISI and army high command.

Writer

Ahmar Mustikhan Ahmar Mustikhan @mustikhan

Ahmar Mustikhan is a senior Balochistan journalist based in Washington DC area.

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