By South Asia Press Team
It has been a week since Karima Baloch, an exiled Pakistani human rights and political activist, was found dead in Toronto. Known for her political resistance against militarisation, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killing, she had fled from Balochistan in 2015 when the Pakistani government accused her of terrorism. Unyielding in calling to attention the serious human rights violations in Balochistan, Baloch continued to receive threats in exile.
On December 23, the Toronto police termed the death of Karima Baloch as “non-criminal”. But her death demands a more thorough investigation. Even in exile, Pakistanis face threats to their life. Threats that may have been carried out after Baloch was last seen on December 20.
Hammal Haidar, the husband of Karima Baloch and her brother Sameer Mehrab have rejected these police findings and are calling for further police investigations. Along with them, more than a thousand concerned citizens including prominent Pakistani parliamentarians, and activists, academics and intellectuals from around the world have also come together under a “Justice for Karima Baloch collective“, and have endorsed a joint statement calling for the Canadian police to resume their investigations. Another online petition has also gathered over 3000 signatures asking for the Canadian authorities to look into her death, and not close the investigations.
Karima Baloch’s death needs further inquiry. My wife was an immensely courageous and spirited person. Her work as an internationally prominent activist speaks for itself. 1/1
— Hammal Haidar (@HammalHaidar) December 23, 2020
This is not the first time a Baloch activist has been found dead in mysterious circumstances. In May, the body of the journalist Sajid Hussain was found drowned near the Swedish city of Uppsala, after disappearing for two months. Hussain had written about human rights violations in Balochistan before seeking asylum in Sweden in 2017 following threats to his life in Pakistan. Although circumstances were suspicious, local police stated it was difficult to tell from the autopsy if his death had been the result of a crime, an accident or a suicide.
Karima Baloch’s family has already been targeted. When she refused to stop her activism, her family received the mutilated body of her uncle; her parents’ siblings were abducted and killed in Pakistan.
Seeking to kill dissidents abroad has also been contemplated by previous Pakistani authority figures, namely General Pervez Musharraf, the former dictator. The current government’s unofficial “Kill and Dump” policy shows that hostile tendencies are already in full effect in Pakistan itself. It is probable that they are likewise envisioned beyond borders.
Canadian authorities should take this highly sensitive context into account and resume investigation into Karima Baloch’s death, including Pakistan embassy officials, especially Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agents. Investigations should not discount the possibility that she was murdered by a private person commissioned to do so, which is a common method used by intelligence agencies.
The situation in Balochistan is very volatile. Karima Baloch’s death adds to the casualties of Balochistan’s ongoing insurgency, where Pakistan state forces and various nationalist and separatist groups have engaged in armed conflict in the past decades.
Amid this explosive situation, innocent citizens pay the price. Pakistan state authorities conduct the “Kill and Dump” policy in the region. Voice for Baloch Missing Persons claims that since 2000, some 55 000 people have been kidnapped and 18 000 bodies later found. According to a recent federal government inquiry, 155 people are missing in Balochistan. Akhtar Mengal, a Pakistani lawmaker, found the findings “insulting” in an interview to the media. His party withdrew from Imran Khan’s ruling coalition this year to protest against the lack of action on disappearances.
A United Nations report from June highlights the systematic targeting of “human rights and minority defenders critical of the government and the military, as well as persons suspected or accused of involvement in the opposition,” by the State of Pakistan. Despite its natural resources, Balochistan is a poor region. Its inhabitants are marginalised from economic development. Resentment has been fuelled by billions of dollars of Chinese money flowing into the region through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a key part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative – which locals say gave them little benefit as most new jobs went to outsiders.
Owing to these grievances, the province has seen a Baloch rebellion and insurgency for the last many decades which has intensified its attacks against Pakistani security forces and other targets in recent years. In response, the Pakistani authorities have also intensified their crackdown, not just against the separatist groups but increasingly against innocent and peaceful Baloch people, who are only raising their voice for the rights of their people.