Iron Purdah? Pakistani military massacre of Hindus

A military raid in ’05 killed 33 Hindus in a Baloch borough.  As hush-up bids failed, it now seems the event was well-designed.

Sanjay Suri

Thirty-Three Hindus Killed in Pakistan in Attack by Government Troops. Most of the Dead Women and Children. Many More Injured. Hundreds Flee Homes…headlines like these never managed to hit the Indian media when it all happened in the neighbouring nation in March 2005.

An independent account of those killings emerged after teams from the Pakistan Human Rights Commission (PHRC) led by human rights activist and famous lawyer Asma Jahangir visited Dera Bugti town in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, in January 2006, nine months after the killings there. The human rights commission published its report later last year.

“There’s discrimination against all religious minorities. But what’s particularly frightful for Hindus is the kind of harassment they face from the intelligence agencies.” Asma Jahangir human rights activist, lawyer

Among the pieces of evidence presented to the human rights team was a video that a resident had managed to take of some of the violence—and of the dead. In the face of silence from Pakistani authorities, Baloch political leaders smuggled that video out of the country. This video is now being circulated among political and human rights groups as some indication of the face of Pakistani military authorities in Pakistan.

“This has been shown to members of parliament here and to members of the European parliament,” a Baloch opposition leader campaigning to raise awareness of Baloch human rights issues told Outlook. “We will take it to every international forum if necessary to show the world the true face of what is going on, so that they know.”

The video, of which Outlook obtained a copy, has become politically sensitive after the killing of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti late last year. The Hindus killed had been living around Bugti’s house. The Baloch leader was accused by Pakistani authorities of working against national interests, and of being an ‘India man’ within Pakistan.

By early 2005, most people had left the town—a district headquarters and base of the Bugti clan—in the face of attacks by the Frontier Corps (FC), the Pakistani paramilitary force deployed in the area.

And the few that remained had apparently taken shelter in Nawab Bugti’s compound. The film does not show exactly why the Hindus were targeted there, but the FC evidently had a clear idea just who was living where in that area.

The video shows local people gathered in a compound scattering in panic after gunshots and explosions. Groups are seen taking shelter; among them at least one armed man as well. The attacks seem to come from behind a high wall and do not seem provoked by any immediate action from the people in the compound. Later shots show injured people, and then the dead, at places with bodies piled one above the other. Women are seen weeping, and young girls appear in a daze. The footage shows several used rockets lying around as indication of a rocket attack. It also shows extensive damage to buildings and walls, with large holes blown through them—the damage evidently caused by some form of rocket attack.

A local Hindu narrates an account of the killings and injuries his family suffered in the attack. He names many of the dead and injured—giving Hindu names. He speaks of an attack on a local Devi Mata ka mandir. The footage later shows signs of damage done to a local gurudwara as well—again apparently in a rocket attack. Much of the footage of the dead and injured makes gory viewing.

The PHRC report says “at least 43 non-combatants were killed by indiscriminate and excessive use of force of the security forces” that day (March 17, 2005). The report says that local Hindus “confirmed that 33 members of their community were killed, mostly women and children, who were in their homes and could not take shelter quickly enough”.

“There’s discrimination against all religious minorities. But what’s particularly frightful for Hindus is the kind of harassment they face from the intelligence agencies.”Asma Jahangir human rights activist, lawyer

The report identifies the Hindus killed in the attack—about half are children less than five years old.

Asma spells out what could have led to the March 17 massacre. “It’s very obvious that they were spoiling for a fight with Nawab Bugti. They wanted to place one of the FC posts right in his sitting room—and Bugti was objecting to it. It is like me having a house with a post outside and a tank coming towards me, I would obviously object to it,” she told Outlook on phone from Pakistan. The Hindu groups, she said, had always lived there for centuries. There was no particular relation between the Hindu groups and Bugti, she said. “But in Balochistan, unlike many other provinces, the minorities do have a fair bit of protection. Discrimination against religious minorities is least within Balochistan.”

The tape and its late circulation suggest that Pakistan has more such episodes cloaked in silence.

This particular attack was not all; killings have continued, often as a result of heavy bombardment, the human rights commission report says. The residents that the human rights team met in Dera Bugti and in nearby Sui, where they had taken refuge, all confirmed that the FC had bombed them on March 17, 2005. “Since December 30, 2005, use of rocket launchers, shelling and bombardment has regularly been carried out by the Frontier Corps,” the report says. “They have used heavy weaponry, gunship helicopters and rocket launchers targeting civilian targets and populations as well. It is alleged that since then at least 150 civilians, mostly women and children have been killed. This figure includes the fatalities suffered on March 17, 2005.” The human rights team was itself fired upon on its way to investigating the violations of human rights in the area, and members of the team said they suspected the attack was “pre-planned by an organised agency”.

The video tape and the circumstances around its late circulation, and the sparse and delayed reporting of the killings, are a sign of the cloak of silence laid over several areas of Pakistan, particularly Balochistan. “There is no independent or semi-independent media coverage from Balochistan,” Dr Naseer Dashti, a dissident Baloch now living in Britain, told Outlook. “In many parts of Balochistan there is a total restriction on media people entering and reporting on the situation there. So there is a total blackout of the Balochistan situation in the international media.”

That silence is shrouding the abuses and the insurgency that are leading to attacks on government targets almost every day. Insurgency is growing “and it has wide support among Baloch people”, Dashti said. “The situation is very tense. There are so many military or paramilitary checkpoints all over Balochistan. People are feeling helpless, humiliated. There are so many cases of kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial killings.”

The killing of Hindus, and the hush-hush around, raises the issue of their status in Pakistan. As Asma says, “Of course there is discrimination against the Hindu community…in the sense that there’s some against all religious minorities. But what is particularly frightful for Hindus is the kind of harassment they have to go through with the intelligence agencies. And every time there is tension between India and Pakistan, they are really harassed quite badly.”

 Source: Hindu Human Rights-Pakistan