While the world is fighting a deadly battle against an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, and hospitals are fuller than ever, there are places where the war against the virus does not matter, lives don't matter enough, and the war, the real one – the one carried out with guns and bombs – never stops. Quite the opposite, in fact: it sees a relapse, and an increase of assaults and war episodes. It happened in Kabul, where a hospital was attacked on 13 May, killing newborn babies and women.
A cowardly action, a crime against humanity, which is one of the fruits – the poisonous fruits – of the so called American strategy for leaving Afghanistan, undermining the local government and installing the Taliban back in power. The same Taliban that is controlled by Islamabad. And in Pakistan, on the other side of the border, things are even worse, with a conspicuous silence by the international community.
What Are ‘Death Squads’?
In Balochistan, in fact, the lockdown time has been used not to treat people and heal patients, but to target doctors, and in general, civilians. During the lockdown, according to local sources, there has been a surge in military operations in the region: in the month of April alone, Pakistani forces killed 16 people and abducted 45, including women and children.
And when civilians are not targeted by the army or by the Frontier Corps, the State has the so called ‘Death Squads’ operating in the region to do the dirtiest jobs on their behalf.
The Death Squads have been constituted by the intelligence agencies to fight against nationalists; they are composed of petty criminals who, in return for their job, have been given weapons and total immunity for any crime they commit. According to a local:
“In Balochistan, there are two types of ISI-sponsored militias generally known as death squads. One deals with the counter-insurgency which adopted the ‘kill and dump’ policy to crush the Baloch national movement for liberation. The second one is to spread army propaganda and make money for the area officers of the army by ransom money, land mafia and drug dealing”.A local to Francesca Marino, Italian journalist, for The Quint
Who ‘Handles’ Death Squads in Balochistan?
Shafiq Mengal is maybe the most famous, and the most dangerous of his kind. He has contacts with Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and with Kashmiri jihadis, and runs private jails and torture cells in Khuzdar. The mass graves in Tootak, found in 2014, were discovered near one of his jails. He also runs terror training camps in Wadh, where he shifted later with the ISI's blessings, while Zakaria Mohammed Hassani took his place in the Khuzdar area.
Their main goal is to implement the ‘kill and dump’ policy, to target militants and to make people ‘disappear’, but they also have their own drug commerce.
The other squads are mainly run by Fayyaz Zangijav and Younus Mohd-Shah – ISI handlers who receive ransoms for the missing persons and deal with the drug and land mafia.
Khuzdar is a strategic junction of CPEC which makes its geopolitical status more important.
The land is expensive, therefore these groups occupy the lands of poor people on ISI’s behalf. According to local sources: “Shafiq Mengal and Zakaria M Hassani operate differently from Fayyaz and Younus’ group. Shafiq and Zakaria mainly deal with the killing and abduction of political activists.
They also collect the ransom and run their drug mafias. Since the last 10 years, the government has imposed Section 144. The people have been barred from carrying weapons, and the use of loudspeakers has been banned, and there is also a ban on pillion riding. Fayyaz Zangijav killed a man in front of many witnesses on disputed land. He is accused of murder charges but still roams freely with guns and dozens of his gang members.”
Balochistan’s War Against Its Own People
All these gentlemen are also closely linked to local politicians and political parties, the ones who contest elections backed by Islamabad. Shafiq Mengal was a candidate in the last elections, and Fayyaz Zangijav is a local leader of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) – the ruling party of Balochistan: a party that, according to nationalist political leaders, has been formed within a few days by the ISI, to contest and win elections, and whose leaders are accused of having a strong relationship with the army and the intelligence.
Another leader of a death squad, Major Nadeem, who was recently killed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, and according to the BLA spokesperson “was an important personnel of the army-backed death squad in the area. He took part in many Pakistan army military operations,” – had been spotted with politicians and army members. While the world is fighting a deadly battle against an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, Balochistan is continuing to struggle to survive a State running a full scale war against its own citizens.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)