AS the security situation worsens, the law-enforcement agencies have come under tremendous pressure to not just bring matters under control but also to make arrests. The triumph displayed by the Balochistan police on Wednesday, therefore, was understandable. The pride with which 11 individuals, who, the police say, confessed that they had been involved in planting bombs and triggering blasts, were paraded before news crews and cameras was obvious. According to the Quetta police chief, the enforcers of the law received a tip-off about a militant outfit, the United Baloch Army. Resultantly, a raid was conducted and when the bullets stopped flying, it was found that the militants had escaped, leaving these individuals behind. The police arrested them, and obtained from them accounts of being used to plant and trigger explosives at various locations.
What’s missing from this stellar tale is what the police already know, but that has been given no consideration by either them or the media: these are children, aged between 10 and 17 years and come from poor backgrounds. They are “used by members of the outlawed organisation for their nefarious designs”. And, this being so, they deserved to be treated as children. In these circumstances, they should be seen as having been recovered by the police from the militants’ clutches. It seems these minors have been treated as cannon fodder by militants and law enforcers alike. Where one lured them towards a life of crime, the other clapped them in chains to stand in the media spotlight.
It is a measure of how state and society have themselves been brutalised in the face of brutality. Branded as murderers before a trial has been conducted, the hanging heads of these 11 children constitute a reminder of how callous a place Pakistan has become.
Little known for its outstanding performance, the Balochistan Police stunned the world on Wednesday by bringing in front of the media at least 11 young members of a ‘terrorist gang’ that allegedly uses children to carry out bomb blasts in Quetta city. In an impromptu press conference in Quetta, Capital City Police Officer (C.C.P.O.), Zubair Mehmood, said the arrested boys, aged 11 to 18 years, have confessed their involvement in the Mizan Chowk bomb blast on January 1o, 2013 that killed 12 people.
According to the police, a relatively unknown group called the United Baloch Army (U.B.A.), which claimed responsibility for the January bombing in Quetta which ultimately led to the imposition of the governor’s rule in the province, had exploited the poverty and innocence of these children at the time of recruitment.
While this report is deeply shocking and requires the immediate attention, what remains at stake is its authenticity. The Balochistan Police is hardly known for its credibility and professional integrity. It has had a long history of making false and exaggerated claims to divert attention from its actual failures. The police carries out phony encounters and extract confessions by applying torturous methods. In the past, the Pakistani security forces had time and again made similar sensational claims about recovering huge cache of weapons from Baloch tribal and political leaders. How can we be sure that the arrested boys did not make their confessions after facing brutal torture and government intimidation. In other cases, the police have also claimed that so-called commanders of the Baloch armed groups had surrendered their weapons and joined the government. Each time, these cases were dug deeper, they turned out to be ridiculously shallow.
On a positive note, this exposé should pave the way for the international community, particularly for groups like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to visit Balochistan to independently investigate the true impact of the decade-long conflict on women and children. There is a wealth of information that needs to be collected and distributed with the world how Pakistan’s war on Balochistan has actually plunged children in a state of fear and trauma.
Baloch children have seen rough displacement and harsh military operations in all these years. Hundreds of them have been marching in the streets of Quetta or staging set-ins in front of various press clubs, officials buildings to agitate against the enforced disappearance of their parents and siblings. All these sufferings of the children have been criminally ignored by the Pakistani government and these voices were never heard by the world because government functionaries also kept these children away from the international humanitarian groups and the media.
The C.C.P.O.’s dramatic account of child bombers is also disputed because of some factual inaccuracies.
For instance, the top police officer said Baloch nationalists exploited the poverty of these children. Those who fight in the name of nationalism have hardly cited their material poverty as the major motivation for fighting against Pakistan. Most armed groups and political parties, such as the Baloch National Movement and the Baloch Republican Party, have always said that mineral wealth of Balochistan is a secondary issue. The Baloch nationalists have been fighting for a separate homeland where they become the master of their own decisions, including the owners of their mineral wealth.
There is little material gain involved in encouraging people to become a part of a nationalistic movement. One such example is the group of women and children who have given up everything by sitting in hunger strike camps against enforced disappearances. People like Nasrullah Baloch and Abdul Qadeer Baloch, the chairman and the vice chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons respectively, could have easily given up their strike camps and gone out to eek out a living instead of fighting for justice. On the contrary, repeated threats and offers of bribe were also made to them by the Pakistani authorities and if they were ever interested, the government would be the first to buy them off.
Also, the Capital Police Chief said some of the boys who were involved in the child bombings actually worked as garbage collectors. Those who live and work in Quetta know that children who collect garbage in the city are the Afghan refugee boys not Baloch kids. Different non-governmental organizations in Quetta have conducted surveys about the state of the garbage collectors and they agree that very few Baloch children collect garbage in Quetta. If garbage collecting children were easy to recruit then the Taliban would surely benefit from their availability The truth of the matter is that both Baloch nationalists and Taliban draw the bulk of their recruits from people who are actually motivated on ideological grounds and firsthand experience of facing injustice or undergoing instead of mere financial attraction.
We do not endorse the use of children for terrorist activities. If the assertions by the Quetta police are correct, Baloch nationalists must immediately abandon such despicable practices no matter how legitimate their political demands are. The mystery of child bombers should be resolved with the help of third party organizations like UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Because Pakistan has had a long history, dating back to the infamous 1970s episode of the recovery of huge cache of weapons from the Iraqi Embassy that Pakistan misleadingly insisted was meant to help the Baloch nationalists. Based on that event, Islamabad dismissed Balochistan’s first ever elected government and unleashed a massive military operation against the Baloch people who have endured a long history of Islamabad’s lies and fabrications.
The Baloch Hal
Published in The Baloch Hal on March 14, 2013