Even by Balochistan’s standards of chaos, Tuesday’s incident with four-year-old Bramsh in Dannuk, Kech, was particularly gut-wrenching. The baby girl was shot and injured, and her mother, Maliknaz, killed at their home reportedly by members of a state-backed local gang of robbers in the middle of the night. One of the thugs caught by family members admitted they were sent to Bramsh’s home by Sameer Sabzal, a man who leads one of the many death squads in Turbat for Pakistan’s Military Intelligence and is a member of the ruling party.
It is not the first such incident in Balochistan and sadly will not be the last as these death squads have the full backing of the intelligence agencies. Balochistan is full of such groups who loot, abduct and kill without fear of consequences as a reward for their services of taking out celebratory rallies on occasions such as August 14 and March 23.
Kech in particular has become a hotbed of these death squads. They do the dirty work of the intelligence agencies, but on the surface most of them are affiliated with the ruling Balochistan Awami Party. One can hardly find a village in the area that is without a gun-toting strongman; Baboo alias Tapari in Mand, Rashid alias Pathan in Turbat and similar gang leaders of varying degrees of power and influence in Dasht, Pedrak, Bulaida-Zamuran, Hoshap and other areas.
The police cannot touch them due to their connections. The arrested thug was allegedly arrested a month ago in a similar case and was on parole, but such is the impunity they enjoy that they don’t give much thought to paroles and law.
The strategists of the military are particularly concerned about Kech. It is one of the few districts in all of Pakistan where mobile internet is banned, and along with Awaran, it has the highest number of abducted and murdered activists in Balochistan. Its people face greater scrutiny at check-posts when traveling outside the district. The army perhaps believes that if they control Kech, they control all of Makkoran. In this situation, the ones suffering the most are people like Maliknaz and Bramsh who are not a party to the conflict.
Moreover, it’s not only Kech. The Bramshes and the Maliknazes are suffering all over Balochistan. Their pain goes unreported and their voices remain unheard. While little Bramsh needs and deserves all the support she can get, her case has caused such hue and cry because it happened in Kech. The district is home to some of Balochistan’s most powerful men — top guerrilla leaders, former chief ministers, drug kingpins, bureaucrats, rich businessmen. It can also generally create more noise than other districts except Quetta because of its relatively educated populace. This is why whenever such an incident occurs here, the government hurriedly sends a couple of senior ministers for damage control who make promises, try to douse the fire, and then forget about it after a few months.
Balochistan’s Home Minister Zia Langove is in Turbat today and we are told he has given the grieving family Yaqeen Dahani (assurance) the culprits will be brought to justice. Now, those who are privy to workings of Balochistan governments know that Yaqeen Dahani usually means one thing: forget about the case. It is unlikely that Bramsh will get justice given Pakistani justice system’s almost unfailing record of siding with the powerful in similar cases. And if by some miracle, the robbers directly involved in the incident are convicted, their leaders and their handlers will continue to enjoy impunity.
Having said that, the protest rallies organised by the people for Bramsh is a commendable act. Raising voice against cruelty especially state-sponsored is a right every human should avail. Part of the incentive the death squads are nurtured is to create fear and silence dissenting voices, and they have been successful to some extent since there have not been many mass demonstrations in Makkoran for a decade despite the army’s uninterrupted highhandedness in this period. So, if the Dannuk incident becomes the reason for people of Balochistan to gather again and fight against what is wrong, it will be a good start in paying homage to Maliknaz.