Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Day in Khuzdar (The harrowing tale of a journalist in Balochistan)

  Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist, recently visited Khuzdar who dared to defy the general "advice" of the government to journalists not to venture into the "Forbidden Province" of Balochistan.  He draws a terrifying picture of events which forced him to flee the city. As an influential journalist he was under the protection of the highest officials of the civil administration and the police who towards the end of just one day miserably failed to protect him. The situation in Khuzdar is absolutely typical of any other city and town in Balochistan where military agencies rule with utmost impunity. Following are the translated excerpts from his most recent column in the Urdu language daily Jang, dated 4 March, 2013:
When the Pakistan People's Party came to power it apologized to the people of Balochistan for the past injustices and then initiated the "Start of the rights of Balochistan Package". However, after this declaration the sheer numbers of political activists who were disappeared and the mutilated bodies dumped on thoroughfares were, in actual fact, many times higher than during the dictatorship of General Pervaiz Musharraf. 
I only spent one night and one day in Khuzdar but I have never, in my journalistic life, encountered such suffocation, such overwhelming fear and so much terror even in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq or Afghanistan. I decided that I would first visit the Khuzdar Press Club because I was informed that it had re-opened after the assassination of its General Secretary Abdul Haq Baloch and a few days later the murder of the two young sons of Nadeem Gurgnari who is the President of the Club. But when I reached there the Club was closed shut. After much difficult searching I managed to find a brother of the late Abdul Haq Baloch to whom I expressed my condolences. Regardless of whoever I met in Khuzdar I was asked the same familiar questions: "How did you manage to reach here?" "How will you go back?" "Why have you taken such a huge risk?" I was very saddened to learn that people are fleeing Khuzdar in droves. We are told that there is a not even a single army soldier involved in any operation in Balochistan. However, I learnt from my own experience that the military intelligence agencies operate openly in Khuzdar. Sometimes they use the Frontier Constabulary (F.C.), sometimes their own private militias and at other times the local criminal elements and gangsters against political parties in the name of Islam and Pakistan. This is not mere hearsay, I saw all this myself  in Khuzdar.
Before my arrival I had requested Mohammad Usman, the National Assembly member from Khuzdar to gather some representatives of the various political parties, Chamber of Commerce and the local Bar Association. He had arranged that we meet them at the Circuit House. As we made our way to the Circuit House we were stopped at several check points manned by the F.C. soldiers. As we approached the venue I received a call from the Commissioner of Khuzdar informing me that we won't be able to reach the Circuit House because the access road had been blocked. I came out of the car and saw six bearded youths and eight women blocking the road. I asked them who they were. One of the youths replied angrily and contemptuously "We are the the soldiers of Pakistan". Then they started raising slogans against B.L.A.(Balochistan Liberation Army). I told them I wasn't meeting BLA leaders. They then started using obscene language against Akhtar Jan Mengal. I looked around and saw some policemen there but they appeared helpless. On the opposite side the road there was the headquarter of the Frontier Constabulary. Some F.C. soldiers were guarding the H.Q. They were smiling and seemed happy at the antics of their Mujahideen. The bearded youths and the burqa-clad women claimed that they were the relatives of some "martyred" policemen. But I learnrt from the local people that they belonged to a BANNED (jihadist) organisation which is controlled by I.S.I. (Pakistan's military intelligence agency). I told the Deputy Inspector General of the police (the senior most police officer in Khuzdar) that I was meeting the political representatives of the city and it was not a crime to do so. I therefore asked him to tell the youths and women to end the blockade in order to allow me to go and see the local representatives. He ordered his assistant to take action against them. The bearded youths started making fun of the D.I.G. and his assistant. The assistant kept on looking helplessly towards the F.C. guards but they kept on smiling thus making it very clear that they condoned the actions of the youths. Because of the patronage by the military agencies of a banned organisation the police has effectively been rendered powerless. I therefore did not want to put them in a more embarrassing situation. I abandoned the idea of meeting the local leaders and decided to visit the shrine of a companion of the Prophet...After I returned from the shrine I was informed by an official that a car with tinted windows and full of armed men was following me. I told the official if I was attacked in full view of the F.C. personnel, they would still claim that BLA was responsible for the attack. The official then told me frankly that the civil administration had been sandwiched between the military agencies and the anti-state militant forces. He said "we are singularly held accountable by the courts as a result of which we have been getting a bad name but to this very day absoutely no action has been taken against a single uniformed person". He then begged me to leave Khuzdar as soon as possible. The city's civil administration felt very uneasy in case something untoward happened to me the Commissioner and the Deputy Inspector General of the police would most certainly be held accountable; whereas no explanation would be sought from either the I.S.I. or the F.C.  Therefore, after changing several cars, I finally left Khuzdar.

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