Monday, April 13, 2009

Pakistan: Widespread violence in Balochistan Province, forcing non-Balochis to flee

A map of Pakistan and the surrounding region highlighting Balochistan Province

Ongoing widespread violence in Balochistan Province, southwestern Pakistan, is severely disrupting daily life and forcing many non-Balochis to flee in fear of their lives, residents say.

Ansar Pervaiz, 50, who has lived in provincial capital Quetta for the past 20 years, said he will leave the area for at least a fortnight.

“It’s just not safe here at the moment for those who are not Balochi. I am from Punjab [a bordering Pakistani province] and will be taking my wife and three daughters there. I work as a draughtsman and it is a risk to be out at building sites. We will see later what happens,” he told IRIN.

Three days of violence and riots across Balochistan, in which at least 11 people have been killed and scores injured, were triggered by the discovery on 9 April of the mutilated bodies of three prominent Balochi nationalist leaders in Turbat town, about 1,000 km south of Quetta. Banks, post offices, government buildings and dozens of vehicles were set ablaze in towns and cities across the province. Educational institutions have been shut and life badly disrupted.

Spread out over 347,190 sqkm (about the same size as Germany) and with a population of 10 million, Balochistan is the largest but least developed of Pakistan’s four provinces. The region has a long history of conflict between nationalist groups, who say they are fighting for the rights of the Baloch people, and state forces.

The Pakistan government has condemned the murders and called for a full inquiry.

Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), which speaks for the military, has blamed the deaths on un-named ‘anti-state elements’ out to sabotage the government’s reconciliatory efforts in Balochistan. But others are not so sure.

“The facts strongly suggest that members of state security picked up the three victims and tortured and killed them before dumping their dead bodies, which were discovered in a mutilated and decayed form,” Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said.

Trapped and scared

In the town of Khuzdar, some 300 km southeast of Quetta and where a policeman was shot dead on 9 April by rioters, Rasheeda Bibi, 35, told IRIN over the phone: “I am in our house with my elderly parents-in-law and three young children. My husband went to work in Quetta and is stranded because transport is disrupted. We have been too scared even to go out and buy groceries because protesters have been creating havoc everywhere.”

While some of the violence has been directed at state institutions and infrastructure, some has been targeting non-Balochis. On 12 April, the bodies of six coal miners who had all been shot in the head were discovered in a village some 50 km east of Quetta. Police official Abdul Malik told the media that the miners were all from other provinces, with four reported to have come from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Balochistan houses a significant number of people from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and other areas.

“We come here just to earn a living. I have a job at a shop here in Quetta. We have no link to politics, but it’s frightening when there is violence like this and the Balochi blame non-Balochi,” Junaid Khan, who comes from NWFP capital Peshawar, said.

Four policemen were also shot dead on 12 April in the eastern Balochistan town of Jaffarabad.

International reaction has been swift. “The Pakistan government’s ongoing failure to address the issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan has led to Thursday’s [9 April] tragic events,” Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said.

The US Embassy in Islamabad has called for an investigation and said one of the murdered leaders had played a role in securing the release of UN official John Solecki, abducted several weeks ago in Quetta. The US national was released days ago and has returned home.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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