AP Photo, Anjum Naveed
Pakistan has been conducting a violent campaign against one of its indigenous ethnic populations, says human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell
Since Christmas Eve, Pakistan has launched a savage new military crackdown in annexed and occupied Balochistan.
Jet aircraft and helicopter gunships have bombarded pro-nationalist villages, resulting in the reported destruction of nearly 200 houses and the deaths of 50 civilians, including women and children.
The main military sweep took place in the Awaran, Panjur and Makran districts of Balochistan. It included a 70-truck convoy of army soldiers and Frontier Corps. Hundreds of villagers were rounded up and interrogated. Many have since disappeared. Some were later found dead, with their mutilated bodies showing signs of torture.
Throughout the operational area, the military have laid siege to villages and imposed a 24/7 curfew, which prevents families leaving their homes to collect food and water and to tend their crops and livestock.
Full details cannot yet be verified because the Pakistani security forces are refusing to allow anyone to leave or enter the area. In particular, human rights investigators, aid workers and journalists are barred. Doctors who attempted to treat the injured were turned away by Pakistani soldiers.
Information about the massacre comes from the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Baloch Human Rights Council (UK).
Freedom or insurgency?
Zaffar Baloch, President of the Baloch Human Rights Council in Canada, condemned the army's operation, saying it is “part of a broader plan of action to curtail the freedom struggle of the Baloch nation... and inflict a slow-motion genocide on the Baloch people."
Pakistan's military justifies the attacks by claiming they were hunting for the Baloch liberation guerrilla leader, Dr Allah Nazar, who they allege was hiding in local villages. They say the dead are insurgents from the Balochistan Liberation Front. This is disputed by human rights defenders, who point to children aged one, two and four who were among those killed.
International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate, disproportionate military attacks that are likely to endanger innocent civilians; making the army’s action a war crime under the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
'Dirty secret war'
Balochistan has been torn apart by a six-decades-long insurgency, which rejects forcible incorporation into Pakistan in 1948 and demands self-rule.
Guardian reporter Declan Walsh has described the conflict as “Pakistan’s dirty secret war”.
In protest at the Christmas massacre and other long-standing human rights abuses by the Pakistani security forces, the President of the Balochistan National Party, Akhtar Mengal, has written to Senator John Kerry, nominated by President Obama as the new US Secretary of State, urging the suspension of American aid to Pakistan.
In his letter, Mengal, a former Chief Minister of Balochistan, advises Kerry: "It is very clear that Pakistan's civilian government has lost 'effective control and oversight' over a military that is committing widespread atrocities and war crimes inside Balochistan."
Human rights abuses
The current killings are merely the latest of many indiscriminate attacks and violent human rights abuses against the Baloch people by the security forces of Pakistan. They have taken place with the de facto collusion of the government in Islamabad.
Amnesty International has previously condemned what it calls the ‘kill and dump’ terror methods of the Pakistani security forces.
These on-going abuses are corroborated by Human Rights Watch.
The US administration is accused of complicity. It supplies Pakistan with F-16 fighter jets and Cobra attack helicopters that were designated for the fight against the Taliban but which are frequently diverted for use in military operations in Balochistan.
Critics accuse government and military chiefs in Islamabad of giving the Taliban free rein in Balochistan. allowing them to act as a proxy second force against the more moderate, secular Baloch national movement.
Armed resistance to Pakistan’s 'neo-colonial' rule has widespread and growing popular support. Nationalists say that 64 years of military occupation and human rights abuses has strengthened the desire for the restoration of full independence.