PAKISTAN: CPEC being paved with the blood of Baloch lawyers

August 8, 2016, will forever remain etched on the collective memory of the nation for years to come. The planned suicide attack on the lawyers, the crème de la crème of our society, shows the vindictive designs of the establishment. The State has aided and abetted non-State actors to silence the voices of dissent against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. This attack was publicized as the single worst attack on the legal community.

Although the Taliban were quick to accept responsibility for the attack, the Balochistan Chief Minister pointed fingers at RAW (the Indian intelligence agency). They blamed RAW for the attack even before the dust from the debris had settled. Repeated State rhetoric of a blame game has been reiterated ad nauseam.

Why does the State law enforcement spring into action after the damage is done? Why aren’t any pre-emptive measures taken to ensure the safety and security of the common people? The fact that these lawyers were specifically targeted to silence the voices of families of those disappeared, extrajudicially killed, and tortured cannot be overlooked.

Is it mere coincidence that most of the targeted attacks this year have been against lawyers in Quetta?This blood bath in the Province has been allowed to continue. The attack followed the assassination of the President of the Bar Association of Balochistan, Mr. Bilal Anwar Kansi, who called for a boycott of the Balochistan courts, in solidarity with another lawyer who was assassinated two days earlier. The massacre took place when a large crowd, including many lawyers, had gathered to pay respect to the assassinated President of the Bar Association.

This time the lawyers bore the brunt of the dismal state of a failure in law and order. On 8th June 2016, the Principal of the Law College, Quetta Barrister Amanullah Achakzai was shot dead. On 2nd August, unknown assailants shot dead Jahanzeb Alvi, a lawyer on Barohi Road in Quetta.

All of the attacks appear to be planned measures to silence the voices of dissent and pave the way for the ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as it appears from the statements of the Military Spokesperson and also from the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif.

The systematic killing of lawyers is testament to the fact that the State, in connivance with those with real power, has decided to muzzle the voices of families of missing persons, and the families of those extrajudicially killed in routine or as a result of the massive military operations in Balochistan, once and for all. This attack was a planned move. It was meant to strike fear in the hearts and minds of people who dared to speak out against the injustice meted out to the people of Balochistan.

In 2012, the Balochistan Bar Association (BBA) brought a case before Pakistan’s Supreme Court to protest the government’s enforced disappearances of Baloch campaigners. The Court ordered the security forces to end this policy and to produce the missing persons. In 2015, the Supreme Court again demanded that a joint effort be made to trace the missing persons and to identify the scores of dead bodies being recovered in Balochistan. Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, the then Chief Justice of Pakistan explained: “We are creating difficulties for ourselves by not addressing such an important issue [enforced disappearances]; the federal government should take the lead in the missing persons ‘case’”.

A conspiracy was devised by the State in which the wires of CCTV cameras were severed two days before the incident. There are four entrance gates to the Civil Hospital, where the assassinations took place, and the suicide attackers knew exactly which gate to use. Here the apathy of the State is fully manifest.

It belies common senset hat in a barricaded and cordoned off City the premeditated murder of so many lawyers could be planned and executed with such ease. This took place right under the noses of the law enforcement agencies, yet no one has been apprehended. How is it, that in the presence of check posts and barracks every 1 kilometre, the terrorists manage to get away scot free? Doesn’t the inaction of the State amount to silent assent to continue barbarity of such grotesque proportions?

An entire generation of our best lawyers lost their lives on that eventful day. Local Bars are deserted and court rooms once bustling with lawyers are now empty. Several cases lie pending because the lawyers appearing for the case is either dead or injured. The judges weep when they find that the lawyers supposed to appear for the cases are no longer present in this world. 
The mighty CPEC corridor has been painted with the blood of those who stood up for their fellowmen.

The CPEC has drawn the attention of the whole world to the Balochistan Province. It is suffering from prejudice and bias at the hands of the civil authorities as well as the Military. Issues of missing persons and extrajudicial killings have come out as skeletons tumble from the closet. For failing to protect its citizens, the government has been increasingly criticized by the international community. Enforced disappearances lie at the core of the trouble brewing in Balochistan where thousands of people have reportedly been picked up by the authorities. Every day, several corpses are found dumped in deserted locations across Baluchistan.

The rewards offered by the CPEC will be pocketed by the Military. According to the media, the Military has a greater stake in the project. Out of a total budget of 46 million dollars, only 6 million will be invested in Baluchistan while the rest will be invested in Punjab and Islamabad.

State policy makers must now take cognizance of the fact that suppression of dissenting voices will not serve any good for the Province or the country. Use of force is only fuelling the conflict when the solution clearly lies in the political sphere. The establishment must engage with all stakeholders in the Province to resolve the matter amicably. Citizens going on a killing spree of their own will not help. Balochistan people should be given their fair share of the benefits of the CPEC and this should not come at the cost of their own lives. Baloch ethnic cleansing must be stopped immediately.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reiterates its demand to the United Nations to hold a probe into the planned killings of lawyers, through suicide attacks and targeted killings, in Balochistan, where the State has been conducting operations for the past 14 years. The Pakistan government has failed to have impartial probe into the killings of 73 lawyers in blasts and is coming out by blaming on India or the Taliban to hide the facts. It is not possible that the Government of Pakistan can have an impartial and transparent inquiry into the incident as it is itself a party in the violations of human rights.

The AHRC urges lawyers from around the world to come together in condemnation of the attack and demand the UN conduct inquiry in to mass killings of lawyers in Balochistan.