Mysterious bodies from Balochistan: ‘Only five per cent of them are identified”

This report, by Riaz Sohail, was published by the BBC Urdu service on March 13, 2019. Yousuf Murad has translated it from Urdu.

 

In a remote uninhabited area about 30 km from the Pakistani city of Quetta, a new – two-and-half-year-old — settlement is sprawling.

This settlement belongs to unidentified bodies. It is the third cemetery established by the Edhi Foundation.

There are about 150 persons buried in this cemetery, which is situated on the Quetta-Sibi Road. Among these 150 persons are also included the 10 unidentified bodies that were buried in the month of January this year. These bodies were found dumped in the mountains.

Edhi Foundation officials say that they have received 131 bodies in the last 26 months which could not be identified and they buried these bodies in this cemetery as a temporary measure.

 

The land of unidentified corpses

It was in the year 2008 that the mysterious phenomenon of bodies popping up from Balochistan started. It was also during this time when the practice of enforced disappearance of Baloch nationalist leaders and activists was taking place.

From General Parvaiz Musharaf to Imran Khan, it is the fourth government in place but the recovery of bodies from Balochistan has not stopped.

During Nawaz Sharif’s tenure, the Balochistan Assembly was informed that 613 bodies with torture marks had been recovered from 2010 to 2013, out of which 373 were of Baloch people and the other 95 were of Pakhtuns.

During a TV program on Geo news, it was revealed that 940 tortured bodies had been discovered from Balochistan from 2010 to 2016 out of which 51 percent were ethnic Baloch people and 22 percent were ethnic Pakhtun.

 

Insurgency-hit areas affected more

According to the details obtained from the police surgeon and the Edhi Foundation in Quetta, these bodies belong to people from Kalat, Mastung, Turbat, Awaran, Dera Bugti, khuzdar, Pishin, Quetta and Kuchlak. Mass graves have also been discovered from Tuttak and Dera Bugti. It is worth mentioning that these areas, especially the Makran region, are in the grip of an insurgency.

 

Difficult to identify

According to Mohammed Arif, a volunteer working with the Edhi Foundation, these bodies are mostly found from the mountainous areas. Most of them are decomposed or tortured and mutilated beyond recognition; hence it is difficult to identify them. “Despite the bodies being in an unrecognizable condition, we take their pictures and post them on Facebook so that we may find their families and facilitate them a proper burial. But despite all our efforts, only 5 percent of these bodies are identified,” he added.

Balochistan consists of 22 districts and 44 per cent of Pakistan´s landmass but the Civil Hospital in Quetta has the sole mortuary of the province and the facilities to carry out an autopsy, and corpses from far flung areas like Dera Bugti, Lasbela, Muslim Bag and Even Taftan are brought here in this facility.

According to Dr. Asysha Baloch, the first police surgeon of the Quetta Civil Hospital, the dumped corpses have often bullet wounds and have also deep wounds inflicted by sharp objects. Most of them are of young people between 24 to 30 years of age. The corpses are frequently sprayed with chemicals or limestone powder before being dumped so that they could not be identified.

Identification efforts

Corpses found from Balochistan are registered but there is no operational way to determine their identities. The Balochistan government started registering bodies found from Balochistan since 2010 under the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. There is no record of the corpses found before this time period.

The police surgeon says: “We inform the police stations when a new corpse is found. If the corpses carry any identity card or telephone number on them the police would call their families. If the corpses are not immediately identified then they are kept in the mortuary.”

The police surgeon further says, “DNA samples are collected from unidentifiable corpses and then sent to Punjab due to non-availability of laboratories in Balochistan. The DNA results are handed over to the police once received from from Punjab. If a family member of an enforced disappeared person comes and claims that any of his relatives is missing then we crossmatch his DNA with that of the corpses. Many corpses were identified in this way.”

The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Senates commission on Human Rights has ordered DNA analysis for the unidentified dead to be mandatory but human rights organizations and the families of the missing persons claim that the order is not being followed.

“When the family members of the enforced disappeared persons go to the Civil Hospital Quetta or any other hospital in the province, no blood samples are taken from them and then they return home disappointed,” Says Tayyba Baloch, the Voice Chairperson of Baloch Human Rights Organization.

She further says, “ They (family members) never know certainly about the identity of the bodies, because the corpses are not in a condition to be identified; hence it is impossible to identify the bodies without DNA analysis.”

Since many years the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons is protesting in front of the Quetta Press Club, just two kilometres from Civil Hospital Quetta. The families of the missing persons sit here in a silent protest for hours on a daily basis.

Shabir Baloch was enforced disappeared on 4th October 2016 from Turbat. His sister, Seema Baloch, says, “Whenever a body is found from any place of Balochistan our family members rush to the scene to identity it. We have gone to far-plunged areas like Turbat and Jahoo in Awaran but not at any instance were our DNA samples taken for identification.”

The real number of missing persons from Balochistan is also not clear. According to Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, the number of missing persons is more than 30,000. The head of Balochistan National Party, Sardar Akhtar Mengal submitted a list of 4500 persons in his first speech in the National Assembly of Pakistan whereas the provincial government has prepared a list of 160 persons.

The home minister of Balochistan, Zia Langov says that there are probabilities that the unidentified corpses are of the relatives who are sitting in protest but unless the government couldn’t do anything unless it received a request in the written form. “When someone comes with a headache to me, only then can I prescribe him medicine.”

He says that confusion was created in the past and people saw the state institutions and the government with suspicion. He said some people had taken benefit of the situation, and that he is looking into the matter. “In the next two months, the situation would be clarified.”

Echoes in the judiciary and parliament

The issue of the discovery of mutilated bodies from Balochistan came under discussion during the tenure of former Chief Justice of Supreme Court Iftikar Mohammed Chaudhary, and Iftikhar Chaudhary in his remarks indicated the involvement of the Frontier Corps (FC) in the discovery of mutilated bodies from Balochistan.

After the discovery of a mass grave from Tutaak, the then Southern commander lieutenant General Nasir Junejo, in a letter to the provincial government in 2014, denied the allegations against the FC and offered to cooperate in the investigations. This letter was also reported in daily Dawn and other newspapers.

Former Chief Minister of Balochistan Dr Malik Baloch claimed of having no knowledge of such a letter but he praised General Junejo for his role in bringing normalcy to Balochistan.

Other than the Balochistan Assembly, the discovery of mutilated bodies from Balochistan had also come into discussion in the National assembly and the Senate of Pakistan. The Senate´s Committee on Human Rights called the Inspector General to testify in front of the committee but he never came.  The committee sanctioned the DNA analysis of all the unidentified corpses found from Balochistan. At that time the committee was told that more than 50 unidentified bodies had been found in the last two years.

No serious measure has been taken at the state, government, institutional and political levels and as a result the land of Balochistan has been popping up bodies since the last 12 years. Whenever the number of bodies goes high in a given time, the political concern in the media rises but eventually the dust settles down with time.