Awaran Operation: Terrorizing Civilian Populations
The Frontier Corps (F.C.) launched a fresh military operation in Mashky area of Awaran District on December 25th which has culminated in extraordinary casualties. Two days after it was launched, the operation, according to sources on the ground, is still underway. The security forces have kept the civilian population under absolute siege, disconnecting and disrupting all forms of communication and food supplies to the communities dwelling in this remote district of Balochistan. Media reports in the vernacular press say that the security forces have killed more than twenty people, including women and children, whisked away several residents during door-to-door search operations and also burned the houses of the community.
Despite limited media access to the area and disrupted communication system, which further makes it difficult to objectively assess the damage caused by the operation, the F.C. has, however, officially confirmed that it has unleashed the operation. The F.C. is not known for telling the full truth as it is been largely held responsible for committing widespread human rights abuses across Balochistan. The Baloch nationalists, on their part, have gained enormous strength in the area which is the hometown of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, the presumed head of the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.) The area has become the focus of F.C. operations and surveillance because the forces want to kill or capture Dr. Nazar, a graduate of Quetta’s Bolan Medical College who was whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agencies in March 2005 and subjected to torture for nearly nine months.
On his release in 2005, Dr. Nazar, who had formerly remained affiliated with the Baloch Students Organization (B.S.O.), pledged to take revenge of the torture, humiliation and distraction from his career he had to face after going missing from Karachi. Hence, he joined the Baloch armed insurgency and soon become such an overwhelming influence on the nationalist movement that he came the poster-boy of the movement among the middle class, educated youths across Balochistan, mainly in the non-tribal Mekran region.
The F.C., while giving its side of the story about the latest operation, said in a press release that “terrorists associated with the banned Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) attacked an FC convoy near Mahi village on Monday and martyred two FC personnel in the assault.
” After this, reported the Express Tribune, “the Frontier Corps obtained permission from the provincial government and took action by launching an operation in the area surrounding Mashkay. Consequently, many terrorists were killed and two of their camps were destroyed.”
Yet, the F.C.’s confirmation of another operation against alleged “terrorists” in Awaran raises questions about its legality and morality.
The F.C. says it conducted the operation on the instructions of the Balochistan government. The provincial government has neither confirmed nor contradicted the F.C. claim. Only one official, Haji Ali Madad Jattak, Balochistan’s Minister for Communication, has cautiously said that the government has not allowed the operation. However, the minister, who spoke to the media in Dera Murad Jamali, also categorically denied that ‘any operation’ was taking place in Balochistan. So, one knows that the minister is deliberately hiding the real story.
Balochistan government’s approach toward F.C. operations in various parts of the province has been very similar to Pakistani government’s policy toward C.I.A.’s drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in tribal region. While Islamabad has been officially supporting the drone strikes, it has, at the same time, spoken against them in public just to please the general population. Likewise, officials in the Balochistan government may often publicly blame the F.C. for its operations by saying that it does not abide by their instructions. On the contrary, the Balochistan government has officially sought the assistance of the F.C. again and again to grapple with the issue of law and order. In Quetta, the government regularly asks the F.C. to curb targeted killings and safeguard religious and political processions.
In October 2010, when a similar operation was unleashed in Awaran, Balochistan Minister for Agriculture Asad Baloch protested on the floor of the Balochistan Assembly saying that the operation had been conducted without the approval of the provincial government. Unlike the past, the government has not spoken up this time which gives currency to speculations that military activities in Mashky enjoy backing of the Balochistan government.
No matter what the objectives of the operation are, there is no justification for killing innocent civilians, extra-judicial arrests and burning of people’s houses. The F.C. says it is taking action against the alleged “terrorist” camps. It is certain that ‘terrorists’ do not operate from the center of any district. Anyone familiar with Baloch style of warfare knows that the Baloch fighters, locally known as the sarmachars, operate from mountainous areas far from civilian population. They fight from there as a tactic to find foolproof shelter and also to make it hard for the F.C. and the Pakistani army, both of which overwhelmingly comprise of non-Balochs from the Punjab and FATA, to fight on an alien and tough terrain. The place where the F.C. is conducting the current operation is populated with unarmed civilians. The outcome of this operation is only terror and fear among the Baloch civilians.
The government should immediately stop the operation as it is clearly seems to be directed at innocent Baloch population. Security forces come under attack across the country but such intense operations are not carried out elsewhere in Pakistan. The military cites routine incidents of attacks on security forces as a pretext to justify military action in Balochistan. Any such armed operation that terrorizes unarmed civilians is a blatant violation of international human rights and it minimizes prospects of a peaceful political settlement of the Balochistan conflict. We have always argued that Balochistan’s issue requires a political, not a militaristic, solution.
This editorial was originally published in The Baloch Hal on December 28, 2012