Balochistan 2020: The pandemic year made worse by continued army atrocities. 480 people disappeared, 177 killed

Balochistan 2020: The pandemic year made worse by continued army atrocities. 480 people disappeared, 177 killed


Throughout the year 2020, the humanitarian situation in Balochistan remained grim like the previous years. Human rights violations such as acts of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, torture, fake encounters, military operations and collective punishment continued in the pretext of national security. The police turned a blind eye to these incidents knowing the all-powerful military was involved.

However, one change that was witnessed, was the remarkable political uprising led by women activists. The local populace, fed up with the military’s policies and the criminal elements involved in the conflict, poured out their rage and anger by organizing protest rallies across Balochistan, and some towns of Sindh and Punjab.

Despite censorship of the media and suspension of communication in Balochistan, the Human Rights Council of Balochistan received reports of enforced disappearance of 480 people, out of whom 32 were later released. A total of 177 people were killed. The practice of collective punishment by the forces increased, resulting into enforced disappearance and torture of family members of political and human rights activists. Fake encounters and recovery of mutilated bodies of activists who had been in the illegal custody of the army for years, were also reported.

Military operations in the pretext of national security also continued unabated throughout the year. In some cases, entire villages were bulldozed and burnt down to ashes. A large number of women and children were detained and shifted to army camps where they were subjected to inhuman torture. The indiscriminate operations and bombings caused an increase in the number of internally displaced people, a burning issue which has never been taken into consideration. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many displaced families that had taken refuge on the outskirts of cities returned to their villages amid the lockdown because of closure of businesses but were met with the wrath of the army upon their return.

The army also imposed new rules in different areas which required male members of a family older than twelve to appear in the nearby camp one or twice a month. During the summons, they were intimated and most of the time beaten.

State-sponsored death squads also remained active with impunity, acting on the directives of the intelligence agencies and targeted innocent people for ransom and protection money. A large number of people including women were killed by death squads in 2020. The number of gangs operating under the supervision of the military also increased. Moreover, some Baloch militants who had surrendered to the government were tasked to hunt down their ex-comrades to prove their loyalty. This became the reason for an increase in violence in the region.

Throughout the year, students held protest demonstrations, mostly in the capital of Balochistan, Quetta, for their rights. Initially, the students took to the streets against installation of hidden cameras in the rooms and washrooms at the women’s hostel of the University of Balochistan, privatization of the Bolan Medical College, online classes as majority of Balochistan’s districts lack internet connection and later against withdrawal of student’s scholarships and reserved seats for the students of Balochistan at the universities of Punjab.

In Quetta, missing Dr Deen Mohammad Baloch’s daughter Sammi held a protest demonstration on June 28 to mark the 11th year of his father’s abduction. She reminded the authorities that if her father has committed any crime, he should be tried in a court and be granted the legal right to defend himself rather than punishing his entire family. Dr Deen Mohammad was forcibly disappeared by the forces in June 2009 and has been in their illegal custody since then.

Seema Baluch and Haseeba Qaambrani were among several others who took part in the protest. Seema’s brother Shabir Baloch, a student leader, was abducted by the forces during a house to house search operation in Gwarkop, district Kech, in October 2016. Both the police and the judiciary have failed to locate Shabir. No one has heard of him since he disappeared. Haseeba joined the protest for the safe recovery of her brother Hassan Qambarani and cousin Hizbullah Qambarani. Both of them were whisked away from Quetta on February 14, 2020. Haseeba had experienced the same pain a few years ago. In July 2015, Haseeba’s other brother Salman and one cousin Gazzin were held incommunicado for more than a year and in August 2016 the forces handed over their dead bodies to a local hospital in Quetta. Since Hizbullah and Hassaan were kept incommunicado before being killed, Haseeba feared that Hassan and Hizbollah would share the same fate.

Amid all the chaos and opposition from activist groups over the abysmal human rights situation in all corners, Pakistan was re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2020 for the second consecutive term. We believe this is an act of injustice and means the international monitoring bodies have turned a blind eye to the country’s crimes in Balochistan. This decision will have its effects in two intertwined ways. Firstly, the perpetrators will be encouraged to commit more crimes and human rights violations. Secondly, the people of Balochistan – who have been witnessing human rights violations and inaction of international bodies – will be discouraged to report their suffering.

Extrajudicial Executions:

As many as 177 persons were killed across Balochistan in the year 2020.

Succumbed to torture injuries:

On April 10, a teenage boy Murad Jan was ordered to visit the army camp in the Raindak area of Mashkay, district Awaran, because one of the army-imposed rules in the district requires every male member of a family older than twelve to appear in the camp once or twice a month. During the said visit to the camp, Jan was inhumanely tortured for not being able to speak Urdu, an alien language to him. He was later released and ordered to return the next day to the camp with an Urdu interpreter. He succumbed to the injuries the next day while searching for an interpreter.

Javed Gwahram, a resident of Mand near the Pak-Iran border in Kech, Mekran, was picked up by personnel of the Frontier Corps (FC), a paramilitary force, during a raid on a mosque in Balochabad village on 07 May, 2020. He was abducted along with three others.

The FC officials demanded his family to hand over Javed’s younger brother Zubair in exchange of him. On 15 May, his maternal uncle Latif took Zubair to the FC camp, where the forces took Zubair into custody and asked the uncle to leave.

On 17 May, FC officials called Latif to come and take Javed with him. The uncle went and brought Javed back who was in a critical condition due to the torture. He was immediately shifted to a hospital in Turbat where doctors told them that his kidneys had stopped functioning due to starvation in detention and recommended to take him to Karachi, which is some 700 miles away, for proper treatment as his condition was deteriorating. Javed was then taken to Karachi, the capital of Sindh, for treatment, where he passed away on 26 May, 2020.

Shot dead:

A total of 109 people was reportedly shot and killed in different parts of the region in 2020. One of them was a student who was killed by the personnel of the FC in Turbat in August.

On 13 August, the personnel of the FC shot and killed a young university student Hayat Mirza in front of his parents and other eyewitnesses. He was a Karachi University student and had returned home to offer his father a helping hand in the date orchards. On August 13, Hayat was working with his parents when a military convoy came under an attack in which three persons were injured. In reaction, three soldiers rushed into the orchard. One of the soldiers dragged Hayat Baloch to the road. His mother followed them and begged for mercy, stating that he was innocent. One soldier took her scarf, blindfolded Hayat and pumped eight bullets into his body. The other two soldiers’ complicity witnessed the entire incident.

Women’s Execution:

Twelve women were reportedly killed in Balochistan in the year 2020.

In one case, a popular female journalist, poet, artist and campaigner for women’s rights, Shahina Shahin, was killed in Turbat, Balochistan, in September 2020.

Shahina was raised by a single mother and was the eldest of five sisters. She was a well-known writer and hosted many TV shows. She campaigned for the rights of girls and women in the region, formed a girl-only organization, Dazgwar, and founded a literary magazine with the same name, publishing the write-ups of aspiring women writers.

Shahina was brought to the Civil Hospital in Turbat, wounded of gunshots. Her husband, Mehrab Gichki, and a friend of his left her in the hospital and fled. Shahina succumbed to her injuries later that day. She was shot twice on the chest.

Her family accused the husband and his friend Sameed Saeed. A police case was filed against the alleged culprits. Sameed Saeed was later arrested but her husband Mehrab Gichki is still at large. Mehrab belongs to an influential family with close family ties with Balochistan’s Chief Minister Jam Kamal and other influential tribes such as Mengal and Marri.

In another case, a woman Maliknaz was shot and killed by a group of robbers that broke into her house on 26 May, 2020. Four gunmen entered her house in Dannuk, district Kech, with the intention of robbery. The robbers faced resistance and three out of the four ran off. During a scuffle, a four-year-old girl Bramsh was shot and injured and her mother, Malik Naz, was killed. One of the thugs was caught by Naz’s family. He admitted their gang worked for Sameer Sabzal, a man with a criminal past. Sameer allegedly ran a death squad backed by Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, the MI.  The incident garnered anger across Balochistan. People took to the streets and demanded the arrest of gang members and dismemberment of all state-backed death squads. The local police eventually arrested the gang members. However, the family still awaits justice.

Another woman Kulsoom Baloch was slaughtered by a group of robbers when they broke into her house in Dazin village of Tump, district Kech, on June 14, 2020. Kulsoom, 27, was killed by three robbers in her house when she refused to give her belongings. According to the details, three robbers broke into her home on the night of June 14. Finding Kulsoom asleep in the lawn with her two kids, the robbers attacked them and asked for the jewelry she wore. Upon her refusal, the robbers beat the children. After a while, when she refused to give the keys to the room, the robbers killed the mother with a knife in front of the children.

Another woman Asia Bibi was shot and killed by a police constable on 18 October, 2020, in Tump. The constable, Aslam, then went into hiding and has not been arrested so far.

Four persons, including three women, were killed in the name of honor in the regions where tribal leaders rule. Some of these tribal leaders are also members of the country’s parliament.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition parties, accused the military of rigging the general elections in order to bring its own loyal people to the parliament rather than allowing the people to choose their own representatives.

Children’s Execution:

Several children were killed in Balochistan in the year 2020, most of them by criminal gangs empowered by the military. These gangs are locally known as death squads. Some children were killed directly by the forces too.

The said death squads act on the directions of the army and are also responsible for abducting activists and killing and dumping their bodies.

On December 7, two teenage boys Ameer Bakhsh, 16, and Haneef Meeran, 13, disappeared while traveling to Turbat from Tejaban area of district Kech. Their mutilated bodies were found the next day under a bridge in Herronk, 20 miles away from Tejaban. Both the boys were allegedly abducted by members of a local death squad for being family members of political activists.

Hamza Umar, 14, was killed in an aerial shelling on a shrine in Murad Bakhsh village of Kilkor, Panjgur, on 20 December, 2020. According to the details, the army bombed the shrine, killing eight people of the same family, including Hamza Umar. The army personnel dumped the body of the teenager and transferred the rest to a hospital in Kolwah. The deceased were identified as Abdul Samad Bahram, Murad Mohammad Miskan, Hasil Haider, Saeed Mehrab, Abdul Wahid Musa and Abdul Qadir Bakhsh.

In another incident, 17 years old Imam Sher Mohammad was hit by two bullets when FC personnel opened fire on a vehicle on the morning of 30 April in Apsi Kahn area of district Kech. He was taken by the FC to their check post where he remained on the floor without treatment for hours. Later, he was handed over to local administration and died the same day.

Imam Sher had recently survived cancer. He was an orphan and the only breadwinner in his family. After he was treated for cancer, which was made possible through donations, he came back to his village and worked on transport vehicles that sell goods from village to village in the Pak-Iran border area. He barely earned enough to feed his family.

Custodial Killings:

Twenty-eight decomposed bodies were found in Balochistan in the year 2020. Some of them are still unidentified.

The body of Hafeezullah Mohammad Hasani, who was abducted on 30 August 2016, was found by chance. After heavy rains in Balochistan, a villager found the remains in the wilderness in the victim’s birth district Chagai, on Sep 10, 2020. The body was identified by his brother from his clothes, shoes and his two artificial teeth. A doctor from the local hospital told the media that the corpse was three-years-old.

On Aug 30, 2016, Mr Hafeez Ullah was visiting his cousin in Killi Qasim Khan Dalbandan, Balochistan,when he was arrested and taken away by a Pakistan army Major during a raid. The Major, Naveed, forcibly took the victim with him without any court warrant. When the victim’s family approached the Major, he directed them to go to Quetta if they wanted Hafeez to get released. Upon the family’s arrival in Quetta, he demanded 12 million rupees in exchange for the victim’s release. The family was provided with a wireless loop phone to remain in contact with the Major. The family somehow managed to collect, and paid 5.8 million in instalments after selling property and borrowed money from relatives and friends. Yet the victim was not released because the Major demanded the full amount, which the low-income family could not manage to pay.

After the payment and the Major’s refusal to release the victim, Hafeez’s younger brother held a press conference at the Quetta Press Club, exposing the Major. He told the press that his family thought that the military took the victim for an investigation and would release him later, but it didn’t happen.

In 2019, the army’s spokesperson himself issued a statement saying a Major was sentenced to life imprisonment because he abducted a boy (Hafeezullah from Balochistan) and asked for ransom money for the boy’s return. The spokesman elaborated that the Major was charged because of his “misuse of authority” by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a court-martial trial. “[Pakistan] Army major gets life term for kidnapping Baloch kid for ransom,” read one headline. However, the news story did not mention the name of the army Major.

The mother of the victim, Bibi Shari, had also filed a FIR in Dalbandin Police Station in District Chagai. The family also sat in the protest camp of the families of the missing persons in Balochistan.

The victim’s family reached out to the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, the HRCB, and provided all information and details of the incident to report the victim’s forceful disappearance and report his case to the UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance’s Committee. The case was submitted to the committee on Dec 26, 2018.

Local human rights organizations, including the HRCB, raised the issue, asking Pakistani authorities to release the victim or produce him in a court if he had committed any crime. Despite all this, the victim was extrajudicially killed, and his body was dumped. His family and human rights organization were kept in the dark regarding the incident.

Killings during military operations:

In another case, on 20 December, 2020, the forces killed eight of the same family in an aerial shelling on Murad Bakhsh village of Kilkor district Panjgur. The forces put the village under siege with military helicopters joining the ground forces. The helicopters shelled a shrine of the village, killing eight people including a child. The forces left the body of the boy, Hamza Umar on the spot, and took the bodies of Abdul Samad Bahram, Murad Mohammad Miskan, Hasil Haider, Saeed Mehrab, Abdul Wahid Musa and Abdul Qadir Bakhsh to a local hospital, not allowing even a burial of the bodies.

On December 21, during military raids the forces forcibly disappeared 16 people from different villages of Kolwah, district Awaran. The abducted were identified as Limbo Dostain, Wahag Madad, Bakhsho Gamani, Haider Ghulam Mohammad, Basheer Karim Dad, Deen Mohammad Rahmat, Hammal Bashir, Pir Bakhsh Mola Bakhsh, Charo Haider, Rasheed Haider, Gamani Gajiyaan, Imam Gajiyaan. Shokat Telahu, Allah Dad Khaliq, Diljan Madad and Rakko Madad.

Two days later on December 23, the forces handed over the dead bodies of three of the abducted, Allah Dad Khaliq, Diljan, Madad and Rakko Madad, to a local hospital in Awaran while the rest were later released.

Alleged killings of activists abroad:

Sajid Hussain:

On 02 March 2020, Sajid Hussain, a prominent journalist from Balochistan went missing from Uppsala city of Sweden. His dead body was found in a river on 23 April, after more than seven weeks. Many journalist organizations including Reporters Without Borders blame Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI involvement in the incident. Even though Pakistan embassy in Sweden rejected the allegations and Sweden’s police ruled out any foul play in the incident, still there remain many questions unanswered.

Sajid Hussain was a refuted journalist and reported against drug trade and human rights violations in the region. He left his country in 2012, when he received threats to his life, because of his reporting. He found an online magazine, and was its chief editor.

Sajid Hussain sought political asylum in Sweden in 2017. He lived in Oman and Africa before moving to Sweden.

Karima Baloch:

Karima Mehrab, aka Karima Baloch was the ex-chairperson of the Baloch Students Organization, which the state had banned in 2013. She fled to Canada in 2015, after she received life threats and was booked in fake terrorism charges.

In November 2015, Karima was elected as the central chairperson of the organization. At the same time, it was made almost impossible for her to live in the country and the organization decided to send her abroad, living in exile. She shifted to Canada and applied for political asylum. She was living in Canada since then. Even in Canada, she received threats on her phone, which she reported to the police time to time.

She was nominated as one of the hundred most influential women in the world in BBC’s 2016 list.

Karima was very outspoken on Pakistan military’s violation of human rights in the region and often spoke on the issues in many platforms. She was an eyewitness of enforced disappearances and was prepared to involve herself as an eyewitness to many international human rights mechanisms.

She mysteriously disappeared in Toronto, in 20 December 2020 and her body was found in a lake in an island on the next day.

Many groups and political activists blame Pakistan for her murder, but the Toronto police has said that there was no evidence of a foul play in her death.

Intimidating the bodies of both:

Sajid Hussain’s body was found on 23 April, 2020. The transport company in Sweden that was supposed to ship the body to Pakistan repeatedly said that they faced problems from Pakistan regarding getting a no objection certificate. It took almost six weeks and the body, that was being kept in Arlanda Airport, was shifted to another center in Uppsala as getting the NOC was taking too much time.

The body of Karima Baloch was ‘kidnapped’ by the military at Karachi airport. The military transported the body to her native village, against her family’s will. The family had made travel arrangements and did not want the authorities to interfere. There was a curfew in the region, no one except the very few people of the village were allowed to participate in the funeral.

The authorities in Sweden and Canada said that they did not find any evidence of foul play but they could not establish how the two had fallen into the water in the similar way. Many in Balochistan still believe they were killed by Pakistan as senior Pakistani officials said in the past their intelligence agencies should follow and kill ‘anti-state’ persons living abroad.

Enforced Disappearances:

Enforced disappearances have long been a stain on Pakistan’s human rights record. Despite the government’s pledges to criminalize the practice, there has been no change in legislation while the forcible disappearances continue with impunity. In January 2019, Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights submitted a draft bill to the Ministry of Law and Justice to criminalize enforced disappearances through an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code. The draft bill has been with the law ministry for ‘vetting’ for over a year and a half and is now being reviewed by the interior ministry with no deadline on when it will be finalized. Recently, Mohsin Dawar, leader of Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) and an elected member of parliament from Waziristan and, Akhtar Mengal, member of the national assembly from Balochistan, presented another bill in the parliament against enforced disappearances in, but majority of the parliamentarian rejected it.

The Federal government constituted a commission called the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances in March 2011 to trace the whereabouts of the disappeared persons and hold the responsible accountable for this heinous crime. But, in its nine years, the commission has failed to hold a single perpetrator accountable or address the impunity. Moreover, the families have reported harassment and misbehavior during the hearings of the Commission.

In the year 2020, a total number of 480 enforced disappearance cases were reported in which 32 were later released while the whereabouts of 436 people still remain unknown. This data only covers 18 districts of Balochistan while the remaining 15 districts remained inaccessible.

Qambrani Brothers:

On February 14, Hassan Qambrani and Hizbullah Qambrani were abducted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies a few miles away from their home. Their family filed a police case in Kachi Baig police station. But no investigation has been done and their whereabouts are still not known. Since then, Haseeba Baloch, sister of Hassan and cousin of Hizbullah Qambrani, has been protesting for their safe release.

In July 2015, Haseeba’s other brother Salman and one cousin Gazzin were also involuntarily disappeared by forces during a raid on their home. The security officials threatened the family to stay silent or face the worst consequences. Seven months later, both of them were declared fugitives and a year later, in August 2016, their dead bodies were handed over to a hospital in Quetta. Haseeba fears Hassan and Hizbollah would be harmed in a similar way and thus keeps appealing to the authorities to release her family members.

Sana Syapad:

On May 13, the security forces raided a house in Kharan and forcibly disappeared Sana Syapad. Sana is a cultural and literary activist and is the president of a literary society the Naseer Kubdani Labzanki Diwan, based in Kharan. Sana is an M.Phil student at the Allama Iqbal Open University Islamabad. He was kept in illegal detention for seven months and on November 22, he was handed over to the police in Kharan. The charges against him have not been reported in the media.

Ghulam Fareed and Ghulam Haider:

On 02 July, two brothers Ghulam Fareed and Ghulam Haidar, sons of Ghulam Mohammad, were abducted by the security forces from Karachi and Hub Chowki respectively. Ghulam Fareed works as a mechanic in a car repair center in Nipa Chorangi, Karachi, where the personnel of security forces came and whisked him away. Ghulam Haidar works as a security guard in a dairy milk company in Hub Chowki and was picked up from work. Reason of their abduction and whereabouts remain unknown to this day.

Collective punishment:

Rahim Bakhsh and Zargul:

On March 2, Pakistani security forces raided a house in the remote village of Zahmdo in Mangoli area of Mashkay, district Awaran. Rahim Bakhsh was forcibly disappeared along with his wife, Bibi Zargul, in the raid. Zargul was later thrown near the house in critical condition after being tortured. She succumbed to the injuries later on that day while Rahim Bakhsh is still listed as missing.

Sakhi Dad and Razia:

On March 15, the forces raided the house of Sakhi Dad Baloch in Ziarat-e-Dann area of Awaran and abducted his wife Razia. She was tortured and asked to find her son, who had joined the militants, and persuade him to surrender. Razia was released two days later in a critical condition.

During the month of September, 23 individuals were forcibly disappeared by the security forces from the area. Moreover, at least 50 women and children were also shifted to a military camp. This Intense and brutal military operation has subjected more than a hundred individuals to enforced disappearance and several villages were set ablaze. Most of the victims were released in the course of the month while the whereabouts of some still remain unknown.

Razai and his family:

On 15 April, personnel of the Frontier Corps burnt down the house of 80-year-old Razai in Bidrang, Kolwah, whisking him away along with two daughters and grandchildren, including a 9 months old baby girl. The family was later released but the children remained traumatized.

Waju and Shoaib:

The Baloch National Movement, a political party, published the video of two brothers Waju and Shoaib sons of Mohammad Umer who were killed on October 31, 2020. Both are pastoral nomads and lived mostly in the mountains with their livestock. According to the details, the army accompanied by local death squad members carried out an operation at Zahmado area of Mashkay, district Awaran, on October 31. They shot and killed both the brothers and took away their livestock and left their bodies behind. The bodies were later recovered by the people of the area and were buried by them. Both the brothers were nephews of Mir Saho. In 2012, the army bombed Saho’s house which left eight members of his family dead while twelve others were critically injured. The deceased included Mir Saho’s newly born granddaughter Bakhti.