By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: The Asian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) startling report about young Baloch women being held in the country’s military torture cells and forced into sexual slavery has sparked a new wave of angry reactions from Baloch nationalist political parties in Balochistan.
In a fresh report, the AHRC disclosed that a 23-year old Baloch school teacher, Zarina Marri, had been arrested in late 2005, and “had been repeatedly raped by the military officers and is being used as a sex slave, to induce arrested nationalist activists to sign state-concocted confessions.” The report quoted sources as saying that “there were [referring to an eye-witness account] young Balochi females seen at those two torture cells, naked and in distress… the women are sexually abused in the military custody but they cannot say so publicly because of their sanctity and harassment of their families.”
Balochistan National Party (BNP) secretary general Habib Jalib Baloch told this website that he was outraged but not surprised over this report. The Pakistan army was repeating the history of its wrong-doings that occurred in Bangladesh in 1970s in Balochistan now. Throughout the country’s history, Balochistan came under four military operations and each time the army attacked the houses of the people and took their women in their custody.
During the rule of General Ayub Kha, he recalled, Baloch women were picked up by the army personnel and their heads were shaven while in the other cases they were subjected to sexual violence. This practice continued during the governments of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Zia-ul-Haq while the fresh incidents are a continuation of the Musharraf government policies. Jablib, also a lawyer by profession, said he had personally met a Baloch mother of two from Dalbandin district who had told him that forces had raided their home to arrest her husband but took her away.
“When the government functionaries found no clues of her husband, they arrested his wife along with her two children. On her return, she said such treatment had been meted out to that the she could not tell anyone about it because of fearing to be dishonored,” he recalled.
Jalib said the number of Baloch women illegally picked up by the army varied from situation to situation but it was more than a hundred. Every army raid on the houses of the suspected insurgents is followed by the arrest of their women. Since the army men stay away from their homes for a long time, he charged, they see such situations as an opportunity to quench their sexual thirst through the innocent females of the area.
“We will resist this practice tooth and nail. The international community should take notice of the army actions particularly the use of women as sexual slaves,” said the BNP secretary general.
Dr. Imdad Baloch, senior vice president of the Balochistan National Movement (BNM), reacted emotionally to the report: “We are helpless before this is a mighty army. It has given us one more reason to say why we can not co-exist with Pakistan any longer,” he said, recalling his own ordeal in a military torture cell for around seven months in 2005-2006: “We were subjugated to the worst form of torture. If the politicians could be hung naked upside down then it is not surprising that the barbarian army is using our women as sexual slaves.”
Imdad said the army maintained its torture cells in every town of Balochistan .
According to Imdad, not many Baloch are optimistic with regard to the AHRC appeal that a judicial commission should be constituted to investigate the matter. Because Dr. Baloch had himself testified before the Sindh High Court about the torture he had experienced during his detention in the custody of the military in 2005. “I though I was an eye witness as well as a direct affectee of the inhuman torture that is meted out to the Baloch activists, what did I get in return from the Pakistani judiciary?” He goes on saying that this is sheer inhuman and barbarian attitude which will not be seen in the envisioned Independent Balochistan.
“Our Independent Balochistan would be a very civilized state where every human being would be treated with respect. We will form a model state for the rights of women,” he envisaged.
The Baloch Women’s Panel (BWP) leader Dr. Hani Baloch said the number of Baloch women languishing in the torture cells was more than 150 with majority of them belonging to Dera Bugti, Kholu, Kahan and Sui areas.
“The women and children are arrested and put into torture cells for an indefinite period when their homes are raided by the army officials. Islamabad has proved that the Baloch cannot live with the state of Pakistan anymore. We have no hopes from the country’s judicial system. We only look upon the Baloch armed groups to come and get us rid of the injustices being perpetrated against us,” she commented.
The AHRC said it severely condemned the use of women as sex slaves by the Pakistan army and for keeping these women incommunicado. ” Pakistan is the signatory to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but women are being used as sex slaves in a gross violation of the Convention by army officers,” said the report.
It added: “The AHRC urges the government of Pakistan to immediately hold a judicial investigation into the women detainees being used as sex slaves by the army officers in their detention centers, and to arrest all the army officers posted in the torture cells; both in Karachi and in the rest of Pakistan. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes must be brought before the law. The government should ascertain the whereabouts of the women arrested from Balochistan province who have disappeared after their arrest, including Zarina Marri. It is the duty of the government to search for the missing persons taken by State intelligence agencies, who have held them in torture cells for many years.”
Former leader of the Opposition in Balochistan Assembly, Kachkol Ali Baloch, demanded that the United Nations Human Rights Council should immediately intervene and stop the rape of Baloch women by the Pakistani army inside the torture cells. “We have been yelling for the past many years that Balochistan is facing the worst forms of human rights violation. The only hope for us is the international human rights organizations and the impartial media,” he added.
Dr. Bashir Azeem, president of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), informed that the kidnapping of Baloch women by the Pakistani Army was not an unusual phenomenon. This practice has been taking place for a long time but the recent developments should serve as an eye-opener for the Baloch leadership.
“This is still nothing. Harder days [for the Baloch] are yet to come,” he predicted.
This writer repeatedly endeavored to contact Major General Athar Abbas, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), and the station officer in Quetta to seek the army’s reaction to the AHRC report and the Baloch anger. None of them was available for comments.