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Pakistan's Secret, Dirty Killings in Balochistan

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Pakistan's secret, dirty killings in the province of Balochistan are escalating, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Since the beginning of this year, at least 36 Baloch journalists, writers, human rights defenders, students, nationalists and political activists have been killed extrajudicially. Pakistan's security services are accused of orchestrating the murders, in a bid to crush Baloch nationalism.

This intensified wave of repression is corroborated by Amnesty International. It has documented the disappearance or murder of 90 persons in 'kill and dump' attacks between last November and February 2011.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre estimates that more than 120 people have been abducted and killed by Pakistani security forces between October 2010 and May this year.

The best known victim was Dr Saba Dashtiyari. A leading Baloch democrat and scholar who taught at the University of Balochistan, he was assassinated last month in a Quetta street.

Another prominent victim, Naeem Sabir Baloch, a district coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was gunned down in Khuzdar market by masked assailants on a motor bike. At the time, he was compiling a list of abducted and missing persons for the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the High Court of Balochistan.

Human rights defender and journalist, Siddique Eido and his colleague, Yousaf Nazar Baloch, also met a grisly fate. They were seized by the paramilitary Frontier Corps and dragged into a van. Police who tried to protect them were severely beaten. Eido and Baloch were taken to an unknown location. Their bloodied, battered bodies were discovered on 28 April.

Despite Pakistan's transition from the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf to a democratically-elected civilian government, the armed forces and state intelligence agencies are operating in Balochistan in the same brutal fashion as before: abducting peaceful, lawful campaigners, imprisoning them in secret detention centres in sub-human conditions and torturing them in a bid to force them to name others. They are then shot, usually in the back of the head. Their bullet-riddled, mutilated bodies are dumped on roadsides in the middle of the night.

Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, an organisation that compiles records of the disappeared, reports that more than 800 people have been kidnapped by Pakistani state agencies since 2006, and over 140 are known to have been murdered.

According to the local journalist's association, since November 2010 five journalists have been killed extrajudicially.

Amnesty International says that enforced disappearances, illegal detention, torture, extrajudicial and in-custody killings have increased rapidly throughout Balochistan in recent months, with an almost total blackout on the gruesome incidents by the Pakistani media.

Much of Balochistan is under military lock-down and quarantine. Journalists and human rights defenders from outside are usually denied access to the area by the Pakistani authorities. Islamabad doesn't want the world to see evidence of its crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate bombing and strafing of villages using US-supplied F-16 fighter aircraft and Cobra attack helicopters.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is calling on the government of Pakistan to take immediate steps to halt the assassinations and disappearances and to launch a full-scale inquiry. It has appealed to the United Nations to designate the human rights abuses in Balochistan as crimes against humanity, and is urging the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to send a high-level fact-finding mission to the region to expose escalating Pakistani repression against the Baloch people.

After less than one year of independence from Britain, Balochistan was invaded and annexed by Pakistan in 1948, against the wishes of its people. Ever since, the region has been subjected to military occupation, political domination, economic exploitation and cultural hegemony by Islamabad.

There is widespread Baloch support for the restoration of independence. The recent wave of disappearances and assassinations is evidence of Pakistan's increasingly desperate attempts to crush the burgeoning Baloch self-determination movement.