In recent weeks, we have seen horrific scenes of pain, hopelessness and death on our social media timelines. We witnessed people collecting body parts of young men who had been bombed to pieces, and we saw images of grieving mothers, hands reaching towards the skies, mourning next to the coffins of their sons. Many Pakistanis might assume the described place is Palestine, understandable given the lack of mainstream media coverage. However, sadly, we are referring to Balochistan, or more precisely, just one district within it, Kech.

A few weeks ago, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) claimed the lives of three individuals from the same family, asserting they died due to an explosion. In reality, these were individuals who had been missing since being abducted by the FC last year and had been in their custody ever since. According to the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, “On November 13, the police brought three bodies to the Hoshap police station in district Kech, claiming they were victims of a car explosion. Later on, the deceased were identified as two brothers, Adil son of Assa, Shahjan son of Assa, and Nabi Bakhsh. All of them were students and forcibly disappeared persons who were already in the forces’ custody.”

Just last week, the police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) reported the killing of four more young men — Balach Maula Bakhsh, Shakoor Noor Jan, Saifullah Ummed, and Abdul Wadood — in an encounter. However, multiple human rights and media reports confirm that all four of them had been in the CTD’s custody. The authorities just decided to murder them. Balach had even been officially presented before a judge in Turbat on November 21, who handed him over to the CTD on a 10-day remand. Yet, the CTD claimed he ambushed them a couple of days later, justifying his killing.

The tragic reality is that Baloch lives and deaths seem to carry little weight. One of the world’s largest and most well funded armies disregards its own laws, subjecting Balochistan to extrajudicial killings, and this receives limited attention in Pakistan’s mainstream landscape. The mainstream perception might consider the killing of Baloch civilians an inevitable consequence of a two-decade-long insurgency in the region, granting the army free rein to use brute force in what it terms as suppressing the insurgency. However, Pakistan’s ruling elites have forgotten that history shows military might alone cannot quell a people’s struggle for freedom.

Pakistan’s leadership needs to understand that state violence is not the solution to the Balochistan question. Over the past decade and a half, the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence have engaged in abductions and killings of Baloch individuals from various walks of life. The FC abducted political leader Chairman Ghulam Mohammad Baloch in 2009, and dumped his body after murdering him. Intellectual and Balochistan University lecturer Saba Dashtiari was shot dead in Quetta in broad daylight. Student activist Qambar Chakar was abducted twice, with his mutilated body left on a roadside during the second abduction. Thousands remain ‘missing’ to this day. Many young Baloch men, born mostly at the turn of the century, have felt they have no other option but to turn to armed resistance, influenced by the images of sisters holding posters of their abducted brothers, the bodies of missing persons dumped on roadsides, and mothers mourning near the bleeding bodies of their sons, shot dead by FC soldiers. Such images leave lasting scars on one’s memory, and tragically, we now witness these images on a weekly basis.

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