Outcry is growing in Balochistan over the number of people abducted by security officials who often disappear forever
Tabish Wasim, 22, a poet, was abducted in front of his ailing father in a private hospital in south-west Pakistan on 9 June 2021.
“Three men forcefully came inside the room, they blindfolded Wasim and took him away. Two men were from the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, wearing the uniform,” his father, Muhammad Shareef, 65, remembered, shortly after he buried him. “My cousin tried to stop them but they pushed him back and put my son in the car and went away. It all happened in front of my eyes.”
Wasim was two weeks ago killed in what has been claimed as a so-called fake encounter in Kharan, Balochistan province.
Fake encounters are claimed by activists in the turbulent Pakistani region as a way in which people extrajudicially abducted by Pakistani intelligence agencies for their alleged links to militants – political activists, students and suspected militants – are killed after a period of detention and torture in staged encounters most often claimed by counter-terrorist police, who declare them terrorists.
Enforced disappearances and killings by shadowy security agencies have been a feature of life in Balochistan for two decades, as the province reels under a separatist insurgency.
In the last months, after an increase in attacks by the separatist insurgents, there has also been a claimed rise in fake encounters involving those who were once missing persons, according to politicians, activists and human rights organisations.
Akhtar Mengal, the head of Balochistan National party, in an address to Pakistan’s national assembly accused the security forces of perpetrating fake encounters in Balochistan. “Literally, a genocide is taking place in Balochistan like it happened in Bangladesh, referring to the former East Pakistan, in 1970,” he told the assembly.
“This did not happen to my son only, unfortunately it has been happening to many young people in Balochistan,” Wasim’s father told the Guardian. “After enforced disappearance, they, security forces torture and kill them. Then they say they were ‘terrorists’.”
Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Department (CTD) said in a press release concerning his son’s death that they killed four terrorists from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist militant group, in an operation in Kharan and recovered a big quantity of arms and ammunitions from their hideouts. In addition to Wasim, Ashfaq Ahmed, Salal Ahmed, Fareed were named as alleged terrorists.
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), a local organisation for missing persons, said that Salal, Wasim and Fareed were registered with them as missing persons. It said that Fareed and Salal were forcibly taken from Quetta on 28 September and 6 October respectively.
Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir first tweeted about Wasim in July last year, shortly after his abduction, and again after he was killed. “I tweeted on the abduction of this poet last year. He was in the custody of security forces then suddenly he was killed in Noushki by CTD. Everyone knows the truth but no court will take any action.”
Tabish Wasim belonged to the Baloch Students Organisation-Pajjar (BSO-Pajjar), a student-political organisation. Its chair, Zubair Baloch, who attended Wasim’s last rite, said that his body showed signs of torture.
“We will follow the case and go to the court of law against the fake encounter,” he said. “On one side, they have abducted him and then worst, killed him and termed him as a ‘terrorist’. We won’t sit and see such barbarity and we will contact other student organisations and come up with a plan to raise voice against it.”
More than 5,000 people are missing in Balochistan, according to the VBMP. Dozens of families staged a sit-in for weeks against a claimed fake encounter in Ziarat, in which allegedly at least five missing persons were killed after police said insurgents had abducted and shot dead a Pakistani army officer.
Wasim’s case had been forwarded to the provincial and federal governments after a more than 50-day sit-in in front of the governor and chief minister houses in Quetta, the provincial capital.
“We spent more than 50 days and nights under rain and scorching heat so that the security agencies stop the unconstitutional activity of abducting people and killing them in fake encounters. The ministers promised us that they will resolve the issue and they won’t let more people be killed,” said Sammi Deen Baloch, general secretary at VBMP and the daughter of missing Dr Deen Mohammad, who said Wasim’s name was on a list of 40 missing people it handed over.
“But sadly, he did not return alive, and was killed in a fake encounter. If the ministers and the government are helpless and they can’t stop enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings by the security agencies, they should come and protest with us.”
The CTD did not respond to requests for comment. A security source described the allegations as baseless.
“These allegations are baseless and frivolous,” the source said. “Security forces of Pakistan continue to operate and perform their duties to ensure peace and stability in the country. There are elements who miss no opportunity to spread propaganda over missing persons and falsely link law enforcement agencies.”