Author: Fareed Baloch
Dera Bugti, a region with a long history of conflict involving the Pakistani military, is experiencing escalating unrest yet again. Following an alleged abduction incident involving individuals participating in a local football tournament, the area has witnessed intensified military operations. This escalation raises significant concerns about the safety and security of the local population.
The recent spike in tensions reportedly originated from an incident on September 8th. Six individuals were abducted near the Kachhi canal area of Sui Tehsil in the Dera Bugti district while they were on their way to Sibi to participate in the qualifying round of the All Pakistan Chief Minister Gold Cup Football Tournament.
According to sources, approximately 24 players were en route to Sibi when their vehicle was intercepted by a group of armed individuals who forcibly abducted them. Although the abductors later released 18 players, all natives of the Dera Bugti and Sui areas, but they retained six individuals.
The Baloch Liberation Tigers (BLT), a “pro-independence” group, took responsibility for the incident, alleging that the abducted persons were not mere footballers as depicted by several media outlets, but were in fact active ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) agents involved in enforced disappearances and other violent activities in Dera Bugti.
Reacting to these events, Interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti and Balochistan’s Home Minister, retired Captain Zubair Ahmed Jamali, directed officials to initiate a search operation to promptly rescue the abducted individuals.
The situation is further complicated by the recent arrival of Corps Commander Quetta, Asif Ghafoor, and IGFC in Dera Bugti. This move has heightened concerns among nationalist groups, who interpret it as a potential escalation in military operations. There is growing apprehension that this could lead to an increase in civilian casualties and disappearances.
Pakistani Government’s Stance on th crises
The Pakistani government perceives the ongoing operations as a necessary step to secure the release of individuals they allege have been kidnapped by insurgents in the region. Officials confirmed the kidnapping of six individuals aged between 17 to 23, en route to a local football tournament in Sibi town organized by the Balochistan government.
Senator Sarfraz Bugti, who is currently serving as the Interim Federal Interior Minister of Pakistan, stated on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) that efforts are underway by the FC Balochistan (North) to ensure the safe return of the kidnapped individuals. Critics, however, suggest that the operation may have exceeded its initial objectives, potentially causing adverse impacts on the civilian population.
Baloch Groups’ Narratives
Baloch nationalist groups paint a more somber picture, portraying escalating military operations as an infringement on civilian liberties, marked by alleged abductions and a growing list of civilian casualties. They express fears of a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Dera Bugti.
BSO Azad has strongly criticized the ongoing military operations in Dera Bugti, accusing the state of escalating atrocities against the Baloch populace. They claim that the current wave of military actions is a tactic aimed at intimidating and terrorizing the populace, which they believe will ultimately fail. The group cites reports of enforced disappearances and an internet blackout, which they say are measures taken to hide the activities of the security forces. They also call upon international agencies to increase their efforts to support the Baloch national movement.
BNM shares similar concerns, noting the utilization of modern weapons and helicopters in operations that they claim target civilian populations. The group suggests these actions are fueled by the Pakistani military’s ambition to control the resources of Balochistan and suppress local demands for independence. They criticize the involvement of figures like Sarfaraz Bugti and Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, accusing them of assisting the military in exploiting the region’s resources and suppressing the local consciousness. The BNM calls for international intervention to stop the military operations and prevent further violence.
BRP, with a significant presence in the Dera Bugti region, is also closely observing the situation in Dera Bugti, reporting a significant military presence in the region, led by Corps Commander Asif Ghafoor. Their social media updates describe a rapidly deteriorating situation, with restricted movement into and out of the area, signaling a looming humanitarian crisis.
Ground Zero: The Humanitarian Concern
Local residents and activists paint a distressing picture of the prevailing situation, with allegations of homes being torched and civilians being abducted, pointing to a rapidly escalating crisis. These accounts, primarily collected from social media platforms and direct communications, hint at a deepening crisis where ordinary residents are bearing the brunt of the escalating tensions.
Baloch activist Jamal Baloch took to X to shed light on what he describes as a severe and inhumane military operation taking place in Dera Bugti. He specifically named Brigadier Shahid Nadeem, the East Military Sector Commander, alleging his involvement alongside local death squads in conducting operations resulting in numerous forced disappearances.
Similarly, Manzoor Hussain Bugti raised alarms about a convoy of twenty military trucks reportedly moving towards Dera Bugti. His reportage depicted a grim situation with more abductions unfolding and families being taken into custody.
Ashraf Baloch, criticized the Pakistani media for its silence on the operation and highlighted civilian casualties during the ongoing conflict.
Sher Muhammad Bugti, highlighting the drastic escalation of military operations, offers a bleak description of the living conditions in the region, with shortages of essential commodities and curtailed access to medical assistance becoming the norm.
Shakir Baloch spotlights the devastating impacts of the operation – homes being reduced to ashes and civilians being abducted, all while rallying for broader support and awareness.
Impact on Civilians
The current developments in Dera Bugti are reportedly wreaking havoc on the lives of civilians in the area. Numerous reports suggest that several individuals have been forcibly detained and moved to undisclosed locations. Notable among the detainees are renowned Balochi language poet Aziz Bugti, Sulaiman Bugti, Haji Mian Khan Bugti, Hashim Bugti, and Ali Bakhsh, among others. It is critical to note the tragic history associated with this kind of detainment: Hashim Bugti’s father was forcibly disappeared in the past, with his lifeless body discovered later in 2008.
The situation is further exacerbated by reported heavy shelling and bombings targeted at civilian habitats. Specific areas like Gandoi, Sonari Mit, Sardarpati, Bishk, Dam, and Lagardavan in Sui and Ach areas of Dera Bugti district have been pinpointed as the sites of these violent occurrences. There have been claims of several civilian casualties, yet due to existing communication blockages in the impacted zones, independent verification of these reports is still pending.
Adding to the escalating crisis is an atmosphere thick with fear and uncertainty. Many individuals are reportedly hesitant to report the disappearances of their family members, fearing potential retaliation from the authorities. The geographic complexities of Dera Bugti, characterized by its remote and rugged landscape, further hinder the smooth dissemination of information, making it difficult to gauge the extent of forced disappearances and other losses accurately.
Reports also suggest that the Pakistani army has established a secure perimeter in the region, potentially isolating several villages and limiting communications. These reports await confirmation from independent sources.
The current crisis in Dera Bugti casts a distressing spotlight on the ongoing conflict between the Pakistani authorities and Baloch groups, with the Pakistani army at the center of mounting allegations of human rights violations. These allegations, echoed by numerous Baloch groups and individual accounts, paint a grim picture of potential excesses including enforced disappearances and alleged civilian casualties.
Despite the government’s assertion that the operation is aimed at securing the release of abducted individuals, the methods reportedly employed raise serious concerns regarding adherence to international humanitarian standards. In light of these unsettling reports, it is imperative that independent organizations are granted unrestricted access to the region to ascertain the ground realities and hold the parties accountable if found violating human rights and international laws.