A woman and a child, being driven home late in the night from a marriage reception, were shot dead in Karachi in the early hours of 31 January 2012. In itself, the event would be unremarkable in a city that has seen at least 1,052 killings related to terrorism, extremism, and sectarianism, as well as political ‘target’ killings in 2011 alone, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
A wave of sectarian and ‘target’ killings over the first weeks of 2012 had, by 4 February, already resulted in 73 fatalities in Pakistan’s financial capital.
But the assassination of Zamur Domki, 34, and her daughter Jaana, 13 (the driver Barkat was also killed), was no ‘ordinary’ crime, though authorities are trying to package it as such – as the result of family rivalries. Zamur Domki was the granddaughter (and Jaana the great granddaughter) of the redoubtable Nawab Akbar Bugti, who had served as Pakistan’s minister of state for the interior and as governor of Balochistan, but raised the banner of Baloch revolt against Islamabad in 2004.
Akbar Bugti was killed on 26 August 2006, in a strike using helicopter gunships, aerial bombardment and ground forces, ordered by the then President, General Pervez Musharraf.
The killing of Zamur and Jaana Domki, however, has more vital contemporary resonance. Her brother, Brahamdagh Bugti, in exile in Geneva, is leading a movement for Baloch independence, and Islamabad has been frustrated in its efforts to secure his extradition. The assassinations are widely seen as an attempt by state agencies to send a “chilling message” to Brahamdagh Bugti. Mir Bakhtiar Khan Domki, Zamur’s husband, Jaana’s father, and an opposition member of the Balochistan Provincial Assembly, has been explicit in stating his conviction that Pakistan’s “secret services” were responsible for the killing.
The idea is widely shared among the Baloch. A spokesperson for the Baloch Human Rights Organisation (BHRC) claimed, “Their car was followed by people belonging to the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency in the early hours of Tuesday (31 January) while they were going towards their house in Karachi after attending a marriage ceremony of a relative. Near their house the car was intercepted, the women were identified and gunned down along with their family driver.”
The 12-year-old daughter of a ‘helper’, who was also present in the vehicle, the only witness to the crime, was not killed, and her testimony confirms the thesis of a specifically targeted killing. According to her reported account, three men intercepted the Domkis' vehicle from a car and two motorcycles, and first killed the driver. Thereafter, the men separated the helper’s daughter from the others and killed Zamur and Jaana. The murders were committed with an AK-47 rifle. According to the child’s account, the incident was witnessed by an unresponsive police unit, which stood by “at a distance”, in the exclusively and heavily protected Clifton neighbourhood.
Pakistan’s National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence has summoned Pakistan’s intelligence agencies – including the ISI, Military Intelligence, Special Branch and Investigation Bureau – for an in-camera briefing on the Domki killings, on 29 February. A high-level Joint Investigation Team (JIT) led by an Inspector General of Police has also been constituted to investigate the murders. But there is deep cynicism regarding these initiatives, and the grieving Bakhtiar Domki has already stated, “I do not expect justice. All the Sindh government could do is to form a few worthless committees...”
Such disenchantment is unsurprising. In one sense, the Domki killings are quite ‘ordinary’: they are most likely to be just one more incident in an endless chain of secret executions by the state’s security and intelligence agencies, or their proxies, targeting Baloch dissidents and rebels, both within that troubled province and in other parts of the country.
Indeed, what Pakistani – not just Baloch – commentators widely describe as the “kill and dump policy” of the state has claimed hundreds of lives over the past years. According to an Asian Human Rights Commission Report (AHRC) released on 31 January 2012, at least 56 bullet-riddled bodies of ‘disappeared’ persons had been found in Balochistan over the preceding six months. The estimate of extra judicial killings of ‘disappeared’ persons was put at 271 since July 2010.
In other recent incidents, two mutilated bodies of Abdul Qadir Mengal and Sakandar Mengal, both of whom were said to have been abducted a week earlier by security agencies, were recovered on 4 February 2012, in Hub City, Balochistan. On 3 February, a tribal leader, Haji Ramzaan Zehri, was killed by ‘unknown gunmen’ in the Kanak area of Khuzdar district. Zehri was the father of a Balochistan Students Organisation – Azad Activist - who had been abducted, tortured and killed, allegedly by security agencies in October 2010.
In its World Report 2012, Human Rights Watch notes: “Human Rights Watch documented continued ‘disappearances’ and an upsurge in killings of suspected Baloch militants and opposition activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps... Human Rights Watch recorded the killing of at least 200 Baloch nationalist activists during the year, as well as dozens of new cases of disappearances. The dead included Abdul Ghaffar Lango, a prominent Baloch nationalist activist, and Hanif Baloch, an activist with the Baloch Students Organisation (Azad).
“Since the beginning of 2011, human rights activists and academics critical of the military have also been killed in the province. They include Siddique Eido, a coordinator for the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP); Saba Dashtiyari, a professor at the University of Balochistan and an acclaimed Baloch writer and poet; and Baloch politician Abdul Salam...”.
Indeed, a stifling blackout of news and of all dissenting discourse is enforced though a reign of terror, both directly by Pakistan’s secret agencies, as well as by their proxies. Among the latter, the euphemistically named Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan) has gained recent notoriety. TNAB has openly claimed the killing of several Baloch activists, and has also threatened to execute others on their hit list, including at least three presently in their ‘custody’.
Till date, no action has been taken against the TNAB. The group is suspected to be the armed wing of the Muttahida Mahaz Balochistan (United Front, Balochistan), headed by Siraj Raisani, brother of the present Chief Minister of Balochistan, Aslam Raisani.
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Since 2004, Balochistan has remained continuously in the grips of the insurgency that Akbar Bugti initiated – the fifth rebellion since its forcible accession to Pakistan in April 1948. Each of the earlier rebellions – 1948, 1958-59, 1963-69, 1973-77 – was brutally crushed by the military. The latest rebellion, however, has already lasted nearly eight years, despite the most extreme forms of repression, demographic engineering to reduce the indigenous Baloch population to an insignificant minority, and violence by Talibanised proxies, adopted by state.
Six Baloch insurgent formations are currently banned by Islamabad – Balochistan Liberation Army, Balochistan Republican Army, Baloch Liberation Front, Lashkar-e-Balochistan, Baloch Liberation United Front, and Balochistan Muussalah Difa Tanzeem.
An overwhelming proportion of rebel violence has, however, been non-lethal, with banned Baloch groups repeatedly claiming responsibility for sabotaging economic infrastructure, principally the crucial gas pipelines that pump out this critical economic resource to Pakistan’s other provinces. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 180 such attacks have been executed since 2005 (this is expected to be a severe underestimate, as news flows from the province are drastically restricted), though only 16 persons have been killed in such attacks.
However, retaliatory attacks on security forces after incidents of ‘disappearance’ or of ‘kill and dump’ operations also occur. Indeed, the Domki murders were quickly followed by retaliatory attacks by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) on four security posts, resulting in the killing of 15 personnel of the Frontier Corps, and injuries to another 12, in the Mach area of Bolan district on 1 February. Mirak Baloch, a spokesman for the BLA, claimed that over 30 security personnel had been killed in the attacks, and declared, “It is a reaction to the 31 January 2011, killings of the granddaughter and great grand-daughter of Nawab Akbar Bugti in Karachi.”
At the time of writing, as large areas across Balochistan shut down in protest against the 31 January murders and protestors march out into the streets, Islamabad is responding, habitually, with brutal ineptitude and repression. Two protestors have already been gunned down, and the Frontier Corps has warned that it would take “necessary steps” against what it describes as “elements destabilising the region at the behest of enemy countries”.
But Islamabad’s “kill and dump” policy compounds decades of political and economic neglect, and cycles of extreme repression in Balochistan. The latest killings, in a significant departure from the pattern of past excesses, targeted a woman and a child, and have pushed the Baloch closer to the edge.
Indeed, even before the 31 January incident, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, a senior leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, had warned, in December 2011, that Balochistan would not remain with Pakistan, if extra-judicial killings and security force excesses were not halted and earlier incidents not punished. Balochistan, he said, was approaching “the point of no return”.
Islamabad, however, remained habitually unresponsive.
Ajai Sahni is Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management & South Asia Terrorism Portal