Baloch crackdown after statement - Pakistan accused of torturing students and extracting confession of Indian hand

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 5.08.09
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Washington, Aug. 4: For the babus in South Block, the inclusion of Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement is no more than a case of “bad drafting”, but in the restive province on the other side of the border, Balochis are paying with their lives and limbs for the foibles of Indian diplomats who were in Sharm-el-Sheikh.

The Pakistani establishment, crowing in vindication about its line on Balochistan following the joint statement, is heavily stepping up the crackdown on the people in the province, vowing to stamp out not only any traces of secession but even of dissent and legitimate assertion of time-honoured Baloch identity.

Within 48 hours of the release of the joint statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh, the Frontier Constabulary in Quetta abducted Sami Baloch, a leader of the Baloch Student Organisation, while the postgraduate student of Balochistan University was returning from tuition at night.

“His whereabouts are still unknown and it is feared that he is undergoing torture in a Pakistani army camp,” according to a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong.

In another case which is attracting international attention — while India is wrestling with the semantics of the joint statement — Fazal Baloch, a 19-year-old student at Bolan University, was pulled off a bus by plainclothes intelligence officers in Panjgur district of Balochistan, tortured and then formally handed over to the crime branch of the Anti-Terrorist Force in Quetta.

Fazal told his family when he was eventually dumped in a hospital that he was forced to confess under torture that he was aware of India funding an outfit in Balochistan known as the Baloch Liberation Army.

The Hong Kong-based commission said in its statement that “nationalist groups and family members of the disappeared persons say that the Pakistani government is arresting students and young people with the aim to get confessions from them for alleged statements against India for its involvement in Balochistan’s insurgency.”

It added: “The Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of Pakistan, especially the Balochistan province, to stop the arrest of students and young people and the keeping of them in incommunicado.”

In addition to illegal detentions, abduction and torture, Pakistan’s government is now using new ways in the wake of the joint statement to shut down legitimate outlets for Balochi opinion.

For example, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) a few days ago used that country’s draconian Cyber Crime Act to shut down a popular Balochi website, www.balochunity.org.

But as of Sunday, its promoters used facilities in Dubai to revive the website, dissident Balochistan sources told this newspaper.

Pakistan’s Cyber Crime Act prescribes a punishment of up to 14 years in prison for propaganda against Pakistan’s security forces, a tool that is expected to be used to tighten efforts to silence Balochis.

Pakistani sources here have been claiming that Islamabad will now use the joint statement to pressure the US to act against American companies which host legitimate Balochi websites that propagate the history, culture and heritage of the province on the ground that these are part of the cross-border terrorist architecture in Balochistan, funded by India.

Hyrbair Marri, a nationalist leader from Balochistan now living in exile in the UK, pointedly told a recent meeting in the House of Lords organised at the instance of Bri- tain’s Campaign Against Criminalising Communities that Balochistan’s history “pre-dates the formation of Pakistan. We have a history reaching back thousands of years.”

He pointed out that contrary to what Pakistan was now doing in the province, “during the British Raj, Britain... did not interfere in the affairs of Balochistan so long as the Baloch allowed the British Army access to Afghanistan.”

On Sunday, a complete strike was observed in most of Balochistan to protest against the wave of arrests of Baloch leaders in the wake of the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement.

Reporting on the strike, a popular nationalist website in exile, balochwarna.com, alleged: “After registration of the accusation against India, the authorities started a new round of arrests with disappearances to get confessions through statements made against India.”