By Kushagra Dixit and Ashish Mishra
Rattled by growing resistance across its restive Balochistan province, the Pakistan Army has intensified its crackdown in recent weeks, especially targeting women and children, and leaving several dead and many missing, say Baloch activists.
According to well-informed local sources, the death toll and abduction cases are over 43 and 185, respectively, as of September 27. About 30 of the dead are women and children, activists in Balochistan told IANS in phone conversations, e-mail exchanges and via video conferencing.
The latest case of abductions, the activists said, was on Tuesday evening, when 30 members of a wedding celebration -- including the groom -- were picked up the Pakistan Army in the Tajabin area of the province's Kech district.
The fresh crackdown comes after what the activists described as a "bloody August", which saw at least 67 dead and over 150 reported missing. August is traditionally a month for crackdowns as the Baloch seek to celebrate their own I-Day on August 11, and protest Pakistan's on August 14.
The September crackdown, these activists say, appears to be systematically targeting women and children -- many of them related to those suspected to be involved in the armed struggle for Baloch freedom. It is being seen as a bid to demoralise the resistance.
"Thirteen women and 17 children are among the dead. One Sah Bibi, 72 years old from Bolan district, has become the first woman in months to be killed in custody. Her body was dumped at the roadside in Kohlu district," Omar Jan Baloch, a local activist-journalist working underground told IANS.
The activists said 21 Baloch women belonging to the Marri tribe were abducted on September 9 from villages in Kohlu and Bolan districts. Of those, 20 were released with signs of torture. Three women had gone on record and given testimonies, they added.
One of them, Bibi Gul, who was allegedly abducted from Sanjwal village of Bolan district, said in her testimony, a copy of which is with IANS: "At dawn they took me and other women to Mach jail (Bolan). They beat one women to death, tortured some, pulled the teeth of three women and made us watch this. This continued for several days and then released us, asking us to tell everyone what they did to us."
Bibi Gul was released along with 19 other women on September 21. She added that the army set ablaze the houses and crops in the area.
"Army had been targeting women and children, but not as a strategy or at this scale before. Now they are specially targeting women by either harassing, shooting or abducting them," Omar said.
According to Zamuran Baloch, another underground journalist-activist, this is pushing more youth into the armed struggle. All these activists have adopted "pen names" as over 33 journalists have been killed in Balochistan so far.
"They are doing this to develop pressure and scare the young Baloch, but more youth are now gearing themselves to fight back," Zamuran told IANS.
Activists alleged that women and children were targeted in Jalari, Sangan, Garbuk and Kahan in Kohlu and Sibi districts and operations using gunship helicopters were conducted in Bolan, Kohlu and Dera Bugti.
"Army had abducted all the male members of our tribe and is now targeting us. We have nothing to eat, our children are sick, but army has stopped food and medical supplies in the area," said a women from Sumalani tribe from a remote region of Bolan in a video message.
According to the activists, on September 9, bodies of three Baloch children, of whom two had gone missing from Quetta on June 25, and a third, the seven-year-old Shahdab Baloch, the brother of poet Sarwar Faraz, who was abducted from the Tasp area of Punjgor, were recovered by locals.
"The same day, 12 women -- Zenna Bugti, Meher Bibi, Patoli Bugti, Mukhi Fareed, Zemmi Marshalla, Khan Bibi, Sammi Bugti, Sadoori, Bakhti Bugti, Noori Bugti, Guddi and Nasreen -- were abducted by Pakistani forces during operations in different areas of Dera Bugti like Sui, Shari Darbar, Asreli and Dilbar Mat," Omar said.
The activists alleged that five women and five children were killed in operations held between September 11 and 13 at the town of Rajanpur and Gyandari in Punjab near Dera Bugti.
"Pakistani forces camped at Gyandari and continued the operation in Rajanpur using helicopters. After the three-day operation, they abducted many women. Those killed include Shabana Bugti, Laalen Bugti, Razia Bugti, Haani Bugti and Shaani Bugti," Hafsa Baloch, another activist, said.
Activist Banu Hooran Baloch, who spoke of human rights violations in a video message that went viral, said she is now barred from entering Quetta Press Club.
"I am also facing atrocities of the Pakistan Army now. I was attacked before Eid. Army personnel had rented a house next to mine and they consistently follow me and threaten my family regularly," Hooran told IANS.
(Ashish Mishra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Kushagra at email@example.com)