“Even if the president or chief justice tells us to release you, we won’t. We can torture you, or kill you, or keep you for years at our will. It is only the Army chief and the [intelligence] chief that we obey.” – Pakistani official to Bashir Azeem, the 76-year-old secretary-general of the Baloch Republican Party, during his unacknowledged detention, April 2010

“Disappearances of people of Balochistan are the most burning issue in the country. Due to this issue, the situation in Balochistan is at its worst.” – Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal, commenting on the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry for Missing Persons on May 4, 2010.

 “One of them pointed his gun at Abdul Nasir and shouted, ‘Get up!’ As soon as Abdul Nasir got off the ground the man walked him to their car. Since that time I have not seen Abdul.” – Witness to enforced disappearance of Abdul Nasir, June 2010

This report is based on information collected by Human Rights Watch researchers in Pakistan in 2010 and 2011. During our research on enforced disappearances in Balochistan, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 individuals, including family members of “disappeared” individuals, persons who were in unacknowledged detention and later released, local human rights activists, lawyers, and witnesses. The interviews were conducted in English and in Urdu, and, where necessary, with the help of Baloch interpreters.

Human Rights Watch encountered serious difficulties in meeting Baloch witnesses, as many were reluctant to travel and meet with Human Rights Watch researchers out of fear for their safety from government security forces. Many witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch were visibly scared and expressed serious concerns about repercussions they may face for speaking about disappearances in the province. We have used pseudonyms for several witnesses and victims, as expressly indicated at relevant points in the text and footnotes, to protect them from possible retaliation.

Witnesses frequently described the perpetrators as armed men in civilian clothes, usually arriving in one or more four-door pickup trucks. The witnesses typically referred to these assailants as representatives of the “agencies,” a term commonly used to describe the intelligence agencies, including the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI), and the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Other information obtained by Human Rights Watch in many cases corroborates these claims.

In all the cases Human Rights Watch documented, even evident members of the security forces did not identify themselves, explain the basis for arrest or where they were taking those apprehended. Often instead they beat the victims and dragged them handcuffed and blindfolded  into their vehicles. For example, on July 1, 2010, Shams Baloch, the 49-year-old former mayor of Khuzdar town in Balochistan, was abducted from an ambulance while accompanying his sick mother to a hospital in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital. About an hour after they left Khuzdar, men in Frontier Corps uniforms stopped the ambulance at a checkpoint and ordered Baloch to get out. They proceeded to beat him, while holding others at gunpoint. Four armed men in plain clothes arrived a short time afterwards and took Baloch with them. The police refused to investigate.

In seven cases documented by Human Rights Watch, Pakistani authorities attempted to legitimize disappearances by bringing criminal charges against the missing persons. In some cases, the detainees were then transferred into police custody and brought to trial.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s western-most province, borders eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. It is the largest of the country’s four provinces in terms of area (44 percent of the country’s land area), but the smallest in terms of population (5 percent of the country’s total). According to the last national census, in 1998, over two-thirds of its population of nearly eight million people live in rural areas. The population comprises those whose first language—an important marker of ethnic distinction in Pakistan—is Balochi (55 percent), Pashto (30 percent), Sindhi (5.6 percent), Seraki (2.6 percent), Punjabi (2.5 percent), and Urdu (1 percent).

There are three distinct geographic regions of Balochistan. The belt comprising Hub, Lasbella, and Khizdar in the east is heavily influenced by the city of Karachi, Pakistan’s sprawling economic center in Sindh province. The coastal belt comprising Makran is dominated by Gwadar port. Eastern Balochistan is the most remote part of the province. This sparsely populated region is home to the richest, though largely untapped, deposits of natural resources in Pakistan, including oil, gas, copper, and gold. Significantly, it is the area where the struggle for power between the Pakistani state and local tribal elites has been most apparent.

Balochistan is both economically and strategically important. The province borders Iran and Afghanistan, hosts a diverse ethnic mix of residents, has the second largest supply route for international forces in Afghanistan, and is allegedly home to the so-called Quetta Shura of the Taliban in the provincial capital, Quetta. 

Balochistan has historically had a tense relationship with Pakistan’s national government, in large part due to issues of provincial autonomy, control of mineral resources and exploration, and a consequent sense of deprivation. Under President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler from 1999 until 2008, the situation deteriorated markedly. Two assassination attempts on Musharraf in 2005 and 2006 during visits to Balochistan resulted in a crackdown on Baloch nationalists by the armed forces and Military Intelligence (MI), its lead intelligence agency in the province. These operations ultimately led to the killing in August 2006 of influential tribal chieftain Nawab Akbar Bugti and 35 of his close followers.

Armed militant groups in Balochistan are responsible for many targeted killings and destroying private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non- Baloch civilians and their businesses, as well as major gas installations and infrastructure.

Baloch armed groups have also claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on gas pipelines and other infrastructure in the first three months of 2011. These attacks have created an acute shortage of fuel for cooking and heating during one of the coldest periods of the year. They have also struck police and security forces and military bases throughout the province.

Militancy in Balochistan has been fuelled by ethnic Baloch anger over the Pakistani government’s efforts to harness local mineral and fossil fuel resources, maintain large numbers of troops in the province, and construct the Gwadar deep-sea port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf with non-Baloch workers. The Pakistani military claims that Baloch militants receive arms and financial support from India.

Militant nationalist groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) have claimed responsibility  for most killings of non-Baloch civilians, including teachers and other education personnel. They attempt to justify these attacks as a nationalist Baloch response to grievances against the state, and retaliation against abuses that state security forces have committed against Baloch community members.

The practice of enforced disappearances by state security forces has become a distinctive feature of the conflict in Balochistan. It continues unabated to the present.

 The exact number of new “disappearances” perpetrated in recent years by Pakistan’s security forces in the province remains unknown. Baloch nationalists claim “thousands” of cases. Balochistan provincial authorities on several occasions have cited the figure of about 1,000 enforced disappearances. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has said that 1,102 Baloch were forcibly disappeared during General Musharraf’s rule, which ended in August 2008. Many cases remain unreported as families and witnesses often prefer not to report cases to the authorities or human rights organizations because of fear of retaliation by the authorities. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization, has verified 169 disappearance cases in Balochistan from 2005 to January 2011. Of these,33 people have been released or traced.

The government agencies that Human Rights Watch found to be most involved in enforced disappearances in Balochistan are Military Intelligence (MI), the Frontier Corps (FC)64 and, to a lesser extent, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB).66 The Frontier Corps is mandated to assist local law enforcement in the maintenance of law and order and to carry out border patrol and anti-smuggling operations.

Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have long operated without any basis in law supporting their creation or functioning; the country’s highest legal officer, Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq, informed the Supreme Court in November 2010 that no such legal instrument exists.67 The ISI enjoys no formal powers of arrest. Yet the agencies invoke laws such as the Security of Pakistan Act 1952, Pakistan Army Act 1952, Defence of Pakistan Act and Prevention of Anti-National Activities Act 1972 to justify their actions. However, these laws do not give the intelligence agencies any powers.

Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which local police assisted intelligence agencies in carrying out arrests that resulted in enforced disappearances.For example, on April 2, 2010, two police cars and two Toyota Hilux cars stopped a public bus in which Mehboob Wadela, 32, was travelling to Karachi from Gwadar. According to a relative, a group of men in civilian clothes took Wadela from the bus and drove him away in one of the Toyotas while the police waited outside in their vehicles.78 The police refused to file a report, and his family has learned nothing about his fate or whereabouts.

In most of the cases we documented, the victims of enforced disappearances were men in their mid-20s to mid-40s. Three of the disappeared were children, the youngest of whom was 12 years old at the time of the abduction. In three cases, the victims were over 60 years old. The oldest victim was 76 at the time of his arrest.

Most victims appeared to be targeted because of their affiliation  with Baloch nationalist political parties and movements, including the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), Baloch National Front (BNF), Baloch National Movement (BNM), and Balochistan National Party (BNP). Among the disappeared were senior leaders of Baloch nationalist parties, such as members of the BRP central committee Sangat-Sana Baloch and Mir Abdul Waheed Resani Baloch, and BRP secretary general, Bashir Azeem.

The Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies have long maintained secret detention facilities across Pakistan. Because they exist outside Pakistani law they violate international law protections against arbitrary detention. The ISI—which by all accounts runs the greatest number of secret prisons—and other state agencies are not deterred by an individual’s  high social standing or public profile from holding them in secret detention if they deem it in the interest of “national security.” The relative anonymity of a victim only simplifies matters for the responsible authorities.

Detention in secret facilities has long been used to obtain confessions or information against political and ideological opponents. The scope and duration of such secret detentions appears to have undergone a marked increase since the al Qaeda attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. As documented by Human Rights Watch, US, and British complicity in the abduction, enforced disappearance, and torture and ill-treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda suspects in secret detention centers in Pakistan has provided the Pakistani military an opportunity to extend its illegal detention infrastructure without fear of censure and often with the covert support of its Western allies.

The most commonly mentioned facility was the Kuli camp within the large army cantonment (base) in Quetta, a detention facility run by the army. Allegations of torture by secret intelligence agencies at Kuli camp have been made by the Baloch community for several decades. Like the army cantonment generally, Kuli camp is off limits to civilian authorities and, as far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no army personnel have ever been investigated for alleged involvement in torture there.