QUETTA: Families of the Baloch missing persons have been sitting continuously for the tenth day on Monday outside the chief minister and governor’s house in Quetta against what the protestors claim the alleged fake encounters of nine – which later increased to 13 – missing persons.
The families claim that the bodies were not of others but the missing persons who were killed in a fake encounter by linking them with banned outfits are missing.
According to Minute Mirror.com.pk report, it is pertinent to mention here that on July 12, a DHA colonel Laeq Mirza was abducted by the banned Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) when he was on his way to Ziarat with his family from Quetta, along with his cousin Javed. A day later, the banned outfit announced that the colonel and his cousin were under their custody and on July 14, the colonel’s body was recovered.
After a few days, Javed’s body was also received from the area. The organization revealed another statement and claimed that they had “successfully left the area after operations began” and killed the colonel and his cousin.
In response, nine dead bodies were alleged to be killed by the forces that, they said, belonged to BLA. When the bodies were brought to Civil Hospital Quetta, they were gradually identified as the missing persons who, the families claim, were abducted in front of their eyes by the forces and had been under their control. A few days later, four more bodies were brought to the civil hospital taking the number to 13. The bodies were mutilated in a way that their recognition was hard, seven bodies were recognised.
Families also allege that they were warned to secretly bury the bodies. On the other hand, BLA denied the claims saying that if any single fighter of the organisation was among those killed ones, they would have “proudly endorsed them”.
All political parties in Balochistan, including Balochistan National Party (Mengal), National Party, Awami National Party, Pakistan National Party and others, condemned the fake encounters, saying that instead of wiping away the tears of the families of missing persons, such brutal acts could intensify their wounds. BNP-M called for a province-wide series of protests against these encounters, while the National Party’s Dr. Malik Baloch said that the state had to go towards peaceful negotiations to solve the political issue of Balochistan. He went on to say that Balochistan’s issue was not going to be solved through brute force but it was merely a political issue which could be resolved through political means.
Other than these, Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a non-governmental organisation working for the recovery of missing persons from Balochistan, condemned the encounters, saying that most of their cases were registered with the organisation and were even given to governmental officials. They said that all these were missing persons and their cases were yet pending in the courts. They demanded from the court a fair inquiry on the case by establishing a judicial inquiry commission which has yet not been approved.
When they found their voices were not being heard, on July 21, they marched towards the governor and CM house in Quetta – in the red zone. They were shelled by the police which affected children and elderly people in the protest. “We have no other choice than this,” they said.
They have been sitting outside the governor’s house but negotiations have not been initiated.
Against the police action on the protesters and fake encounters in Ziarat, protests were held in Karachi, Turbat and Islamabad where scores of people joined them. They said that the demands of the families of the Baloch missing persons must be heard and fulfilled.
Shehzad Baloch’s family (Shehzad was one of the victims of the fake encounters) held a press conference during the protesting sit-in saying that his brother was “abducted” from Quetta’s Sariab Road on June 4. On June 27, they held a press conference at Quetta Press Club and on June 30, they recorded a protest in Quetta against Shehzad’s and his friends’ abductions. His friends were released, however, Shehzad’s dead body was received in a fake encounter by forces, they said. They said that Shehzad was a graduate who was applying for jobs and had nothing to do with any organisation working against the state.
Protests in Quetta and Turbat
Protests were held in Turbat and the provincial capital Quetta in Balochistan against the alleged “fake encounter” of Baloch missing persons by the Pakistani security forces in Ziarat, media reports said.
The families of the victims staged a three-day sit-in protest in front of the Governor’s house in Quetta and warned that if the culprits of the Ziarat incident are not brought to justice, the protests will be expanded throughout the province indefinitely, Balochistan Post reported.
Hundreds marched in Turbat carrying placards and banners, demanding justice for the victims of the alleged fake encounter.
The BNP-Mengal also carried out a protest in Dalbandin, Dera Allah Yaar, Chaghi, Noshki, Turbat and Jafarabad against the Ziarat incident. Activists on social media condemned the fake encounter and campaigned for the perpetrators to be given the comeuppance. The hashtag #StopBalochGenocide trended on Twitter in Pakistan for hours, Balochistan Post reported.
The families of the victims were also joined by activists from the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, the National Democratic Party and the Baloch Yakjehti Committee.
The protesters claimed that the nine men killed in the Ziarat incident were Baloch missing persons who were picked up by the Pakistani security forces. The protesters said the victims were killed in a fake encounter by the Pakistani security forces and demanded that the culprits be brought to justice.
The families had lodged FIRs against their “enforced disappearance”, entered their names in the missing persons’ list and filed applications against their “abduction” in the missing persons’ commission of Pakistan.
Furthermore, the families also visited the missing persons’ camp in Quetta and participated in demonstrations, asking for the safe recovery of their loved ones.
The Home Minister of Balochistan, Zia Langove, also confirmed that five men had their names on the missing persons’ list, Balochistan Post reported.
Balochistan govt seeks judicial inquiry
According to Arab News report, the government of Balochistan province on Wednesday wrote a letter to a high court registrar seeking that a judge be appointed to head an inquiry into the killing of six people that the Pakistan army said were “terrorists” gunned down earlier this month as part of an operation following the kidnapping and murder of a serving military officer.
“The Government of Balochistan intends to conduct a ‘Judicial Inquiry’ by a Hon’ble Judge of High Court of Balochistan into the killing of persons in Ziarat operation,” the government of Balochistan said in a letter dated July 27 to the registrar of the Balochistan High Court. “To ascertain the status of persons killed in [the] Ziarat operation, whether they were under [the] custody [of security forces] or otherwise.”
Zia Langvo, adviser to the province’s chief minister on home affairs, admitted last week five of those killed were on a missing persons list, but said many individuals identified as missing were actually militants hiding in the mountains and carrying out attacks against the security forces.
Langvo did not respond to repeated requests by Arab News for comment.
However, Amna Baloch, the organizer of the Baloch Missing Persons Solidarity Committee, told Arab News the families of the people killed in the encounter had “little hope” a new probe would yield results as past inquiries had not been fruitful.
“Shams Satakzai, one those killed [in the Ziarat operation] was abducted five years ago,” Baloch said. “Engineer Zaheer disappeared from Quetta in October last year and his family had filed a petition in the court. Shahzad Ahmed Baloch had gone missing on June 4, 2022. Dr. Bakhtiar Baloch was picked up from Quetta on June 4, 2022, and Salim Karim Baksh disappeared on July 18, 2022,” she added, naming five people killed in the latest operation.
Baloch said those who had committed a crime should not be “disappeared” but brought before the courts and tried under the laws of the country.
Sardar Akhtar Mengal, the leader of a major provincial party, told media last week he had requested Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to order an inquiry into the Ziarat operation. “We have evidence of who was picked up where and when,” he said.
Commission formed to identify ‘militants’
The Balochistan government has formed a judicial commission to conduct a probe into the operation carried out by security forces in Ziarat earlier this month. According to a notification issued on Thursday, the one-member commission would comprise Justice Muhammad Ejaz Swati of the Balochistan High Court.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of Section (3) of the Balochistan Tribunals of Inquiry Ordinance, 1969, the Government of Balochistan is pleased to appoint Mr Justice Muhammad Ejaz Swati, Judge High Court of Balochistan, as Judicial Commission for conducting [an] inquiry into the killing of persons in Ziarat operation,” read a notification issued by the home department.
According to the commission’s TORs, it will ascertain whether the people killed in the operation were missing persons or otherwise. The commission would submit its report within 30 days.
Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Qudus Bizenjo on Wednesday wrote a letter to the BHC registrar, asking him to nominate a judge for the commission.
On July 16, nine suspected terrorists were killed and a soldier was martyred during an operation against the killers of Lt Col Laiq Baig Mirza, an army officer who was kidnapped while travelling to Quetta from Ziarat along with his cousin, Umer Javed.
The bodies of Lt Col Mirza and Mr Javed were found along the Harnai-Ziarat border. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, five of the nine terrorists belonged to the proscribed Baloch Liberation Army.
The bodies of five out of nine suspected militants were later identified by their families, who claimed that they were missing persons allegedly picked up by security forces. They further claimed that the security forces “staged” the killings and brought these people from custody.
Several political leaders, including BNP-M President Sardar Akhtar Mengal, had called for an inquiry into the operation.