May issue 2009
Eye of the Storm
The mysterious kidnap and subsequent killing of three Baloch leaders has further deepened the hatred and sense of alienation in the province. When reports that the mutilated bodies of the leaders — Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, the president of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), Lala Munir Baloch, a member of BNM’s central committee and Sher Muhammad Baloch, a leader of the Baloch Republican Party — had been dumped in a deserted area near Turbat town started pouring into newspaper offices in Quetta, the journalist community was unwilling to believe the stories, as the three men were purely political activists and leaders. Although they all supported the Baloch resistance movement, none of them were involved in any armed activity themselves. The leaders had been whisked away on April 2 by armed assailants from the office of Kachkol Ali Advocate, a former leader of the opposition in the Balochistan Assembly, in Turbat town. A lawyer was also picked up from the office but later released.
Most Baloch nationalist parties accused the secret agencies of picking up the three Baloch leaders but this was strongly denied by Interior Minister Rehman Malik. He told a news conference in Quetta that, “The killing of the Baloch leaders was a conspiracy against Pakistan. How can the secret agencies be involved in such acts?”
The three men had appeared before the district and sessions court in Turbat in connection with cases that had been registered against them under the terrorism act. The court had granted them pre-arrest bail in the cases.
Two days before their disappearance, all three leaders had met a high-level UN delegation at Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri’s residence for negotiations to secure the release of John Solecki, head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Quetta, who was kidnapped from the city on February 2. A previously unknown organisation called the Baloch Liberation United Front had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded the release of all the missing people and a solution to the Baloch problem under the Geneva Conventions in return for his release. The UN had requested Nawabzada Harbiyar Marri to play the role of a mediator for the release of Solecki. Harbiyar had formed a committee called the Baloch Qaum Dost Committee for negotiations for the recovery of the missing Baloch and John Solecki. Ghulam Muhammad Baloch was a member of that committee.
Sources in the provincial government claim that some quarters were angry about the meeting of the slain leaders’ team. “These quarters were very angry as they viewed the meeting with the UN as an attempt to drag the UN into the internal affairs of Pakistan.”
Sardar Akhtar Mengal, president of the Balochistan National Party, said in an interview: “The government agencies kidnapped these Baloch leaders two days prior to the release of John Solecki. The main purpose of this act was to provoke Solecki’s kidnappers so that they would kill him.” He added, “They wanted John Solecki to be killed so that the government agencies could mislead world opinion and brand the Baloch as terrorists.”
After the bodies of the Baloch leaders were found, there were rumours that they had been killed over a dispute about the ransom money that had been paid to secure Solecki’s release. This allegation was, however, strongly denied by Harbiyar Marri who said that Solecki was released without any payment of ransom. “The kidnappers released John Solecki at the request of our leaders and proved that the Baloch are a civilised people.”
Ghulam Muhammad Baloch, Sher Muhammad Baloch and Lala Munir Baloch were extremely popular among the Baloch youth. They had started their political careers with the Baloch Students Organisation. All of them had abandoned parliamentary politics when the military operation was launched in the province in 2004. They were of the view that parliamentary politics was not the panacea for Balochistan’s problems.
The reaction to the killings in Balochistan was strong, with most areas left in the grip of violent protests for four days. Eighteen people, including two security personnel, were killed and dozens of government properties were burnt during these demonstrations. The process of reconciliation, which had started to improve the situation in Balochistan, has also been adversely affected.
The Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfikar Magsi and Chief Minister Nawab Muhammad Aslam Khan Raisani strongly condemned the killings, terming them as acts of terrorism. Raisani said, “The killing of the three Baloch leaders has badly affected the efforts that were underway for the past one year to improve the situation in the province.”
In a surprise move, the UN has also taken note of the killings and demanded that the Pakistani government initiate a probe into the matter. The provincial government has formed a judicial enquiry team headed by a judge of the Balochistan High Court. A fact-finding mission has also been formed by the federal government to look into the causes of the killings. The relatives of the slain leaders and all Baloch nationalist parties have rejected both enquiries, and are demanding that any investigation should be held under the auspices of the UN.