Lateef Johar

Is army extorting money in Balochistan?

As enforced disappearances and kill-and-dump operations continue in Balochistan, an increasing number of evidence is surfacing to prove Pakistan army’s involvement in extorting money from the families of victims.

On August 20, 2019, a friend sent me a link to a news story on WhatsApp with the headline: “[Pakistan] Army major gets life term for kidnapping Baloch kid for ransom.” However, the news story did not mention the name of the army Major.  

After a couple of days, two Balochistan-based rights groups, Baloch Human Rights Organization (BHRO) and Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) held a news conference in Quetta not only confirming the name of the perpetrator as Major Naveed but also uncovered the ironic fact that the abductee, Hafeezullah, had never actually been released despite the family paying a ransom of Rs. 5.8million to the latterly convicted army official. 

The news announcement of this so-called life-sentence by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Pakistan Army proved to be a face-saving tactic. It never served justice. 

The child was abducted by the army from Balochistan’s Noshki district in 2016 and his family remains in the dark about his whereabouts, until today.  

The news further elaborated that the Major was charged because of his “misuse of authority” by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in a court martial trial.  

It is a well-established, documented and verified fact that the Pakistan Army, as an institution, has been misusing its power for decades to run the country’s affairs single-handedly. The announcement of this news and court martial of the Major seems part of the army ́s common internal fight for ransom money they collect through various mafia like businesses in Balochistan, but it changes nothing in favor of the victims. In this case, the particular victim is still held by the army. They neither disclosed his location nor did they pay back the ransom money.  

I wasn’t surprised that the poor family of the victim was asked to pay such a hefty ransom of more than $80,000 by an army Major, and once paid, they asked for more money to secure the child’s release. I have received several cases of such military crimes with firsthand evidence and confirmation from the victims’ families. But again, the important question here is why did the army decide to admit this case where such criminal activities are a daily norm in Balochistan? Why only one major punished?  

In another case, Sanaullah, 17 at the time, was abducted by Pakistan Army from Gichk area in Panjgur on April 6, 2019 and his family was asked to pay a ransom of Rs.1.2million in return for his safe release. According to the victim’s family, they received an unknown call 20 days after the abduction and the caller introduced himself as an ISI personnel the money in exchange for the abductee’s return. The family managed the ransom money by selling their properties and their only tractor, and paid the ransom. The family is still waiting for Sanaullah’s return. 

In 2017, I started working on Sanaullah’s case with significant contributions from Nawaz Atta, a cousin of the victim. Nawaz Atta was Secretary General of BHRO until October 28th, 2017, the day when he himself was disappeared by Pakistan’s security agencies from Karachi. Since then, I have not received any update on both the cousins’ release.   

There are hundreds of cases of the military crimes with similar painful stories, but no one is ready to come forward for fear of retribution from the country’s most powerful institution. The military has a history of going against human rights campaigners and families of the victims who tried to expose them and tried to register cases against them.

The families are exceptionally horrified to even submit the cases of their forcibly disappeared loved ones to UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other human rights organizations. The silence of the world human rights groups on enforced disappearances in Balochistan has also contributed in creating this environment of fear and insecurity. .

Recently, I received details of a missing person’s case with evidence including a 15 minute voice recording in which a family member talks with the victim on the phone and the victim names the military camp where he is kept and says that “the military will not release him until all his relative activists do not surrender to the military and pay some money”. A family member of the victim provided all details and documents to me and after documenting the case, when I asked his consent to submit the case to the WGEID, the person asked me to wait because one of the military’s officers agreed on a Rs.500,000 rans]m and promised to release the victim on August 14, the day Pakistan came into being.  

The day passed, yet the victim was never released, and I am still waiting to hear back from the person. 

All I could do was to save the case in a computer file which contains all other similar cases with pending family consents.  

The Pakistan army might do its best to showcase a positive image of the military and cover up its decades long injustices and brutalities to win hearts and minds of the people of Balochistan and other military-affected regions with such so-called trial and penalties, but this admission of the crime not only attests to the involvement of the army in abductions, killing and harassing the victims’ families for money and their personal interests, it also shows the deep-rooted corruption within the military.  

The Pakistan Army fearlessly violates not only its own constitution, but also the international humanitarian laws. It would not end until the world powers and global bodies put enough pressure on the army.

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Lateef Johar is a human rights activist based in Canada. He is the Deputy Coordinator, Human Rights Council of Balochistan. He regularly comments on the situation in Balochistan

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