Yet Another Fake Encounter of the “Routine” Kind – OpEd – Eurasia Review
When gunmen from the Baloch Liberation Army [BLA] abducted Pakistan Army Lt. Col. Laiq Baig Mirza and his cousin Umer Javed on the night of July 12-13, the Pakistan Army launched a rapid rescue operation using its elite Special Service Task Force [SSG] commandos and helicopters.
In its statement released on July 14, the Pakistani military’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR] claimed that after receiving information about the abduction, “The army’s rapid reaction forces were immediately dispatched to hunt the fleeing terrorists who found them moving to their hiding places in the general area of the Mangi Dam.”
To successfully hunt down a small armed group of just six to eight fighters in total darkness and over extremely difficult terrain so quickly is a stellar achievement indeed, bordering on the impossible. Although the abducted officer could not be saved and his cousin could not be saved, the ISPR’s claim that the Pakistani military shot and killed two BLA fighters directly involved in his abduction would certainly help calm public anger over the military’s inability to provide security. in Balochistan.
In a later statement, the ISPR claimed that “On the night of July 14-15, a terrorist hideout was identified and cleared by security forces near Khost in the Khalifat Mountains.” The statement mentioned that five BLA fighters had been killed in Operation Khost. This was yet another major success for the Pakistan Army. And the ISPR confidently stated that “The disinfection operation, however, will continue in the area to apprehend the remaining perpetrators and recover Omer Javed.”
However, no sooner had the ISPR released its statement claiming that two BLA fighters had been killed by the Pakistani army the night after Lt. Col. Mirza was abducted, the BLA strongly refuted. By calling ISPR’s claims “simply propaganda tactics to hide his catastrophic failures in Balochistan,” BLA spokesman Jayaand Baloch argued that “After executing the special operation in Ziarat, the freedom fighters of the BLA Special Tactical Operations Squad successfully reached their desired destinations,” to add, “In the whole operation, not even a single BLA fighter was injured or killed.”
Even before Lieutenant Colonel Mirza was finally buried, rumors were already circulating that those killed by the Pakistani army in the so-called “rescue operations” were not BLA fighters, and there was more than one reason to back up that claim. First and foremost, the BLA fighters are not novices and as such would have taken extraordinary precautions to conceal their location. Thus, the speed and accuracy with which the Pakistani military was able to locate Lt. Col. Mirza’s captors in such difficult terrain which provides excellent cover and concealment, in itself raises serious doubts about this claim.
Still, let’s still give the rescue teams the benefit of the doubt and assume they tracked down the kidnappers who were moving with their prey. This brings us to the second question: how could this highly skilled rescue team, which had accurately identified the kidnappers in the dead of night and even managed to kill two of the kidnappers, suddenly lose track of them at dawn? What were the helicopters used by the army doing? Something is clearly wrong!
Third, the ISPR asserts that “Sensing their possible encirclement, the terrorists shot Lt. Col. Laiq Baig Mirza Shaheed and attempted to flee,” is plausible because, cornered, the kidnappers often kill their victims. Therefore, BLA may have killed Lt. Col. Mirza “sensing their possible encirclement” [as ISPR claims]. However, if fear of encirclement drove the BLA to kill Lt. Col. Mirza, why didn’t they also kill his cousin?
Trying to escape a safety net with a hostage in tow is asking for trouble and that’s why the ISPR’s claim that BLA fighters managed to break contact with the SSG commandos and get away with it. fleeing with the kidnapped civilian does not hold. Finally, the claim that five BLA fighters were killed in the Khost area the following night should also be taken with a grain of salt as the BLA flatly rejected this claim.
One might wonder why more credit is given to the BLA statement than to the ISPR. The answer is simple. In its statement, the BLA announced that “The Baloch Liberation Army is extremely proud of its struggle and the martyrdom of our comrades during this struggle. BLA announces all the martyrdoms of its members with great glory and honor. If any of our freedom fighters had lost their life in this successful operation, we would have been proud to publicize it and pay rich tributes to them. In the end, BLA lived up to that claim.
So, while past experience validates the BLA’s assertion regarding loss acceptance, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the ISPR. Didn’t the Pakistani army deny that its soldiers were involved in the Kargil intrusions in 1999, and even deny its own deaths, claiming that they were corpses of ‘mujahideen’ and not his soldiers? When an army can go so far as to try to cover up its lies by abandoning its soldiers killed in action during the Kargil war, then how can anyone accept what the ISPR says without cross-checking?
Long story short, the truth is out. The Balochistan Human Rights Council tweeted that “5 out of 9 bodies have been identified and the 5 people are registered as enforced missing persons who had been in the custody of the forces for months and years.” [Sic]. By providing specific details of their enforced disappearances, unlike the ISPR, he left no room for speculation, as evidenced by the information shared below:
- Victim 1- Shams Satakzai, who was forcibly disappeared by [Pakistani] armed forces five years ago and is still in detention.
- Victim 2 – Salim Karim, a student and resident of Panjgur who was taken [by the Pakistani military] in April 2022 while traveling to Quetta.
- Victim 3- Dr. Mukhtar, physiotherapist by profession who forcibly disappeared on June 11, 2022 from Quetta.
- Victim 4 – Engineer Zaheer Bangulzai who was forcibly disappeared [ by security forces/ intelligence agencies] from his office at Airport Road Quetta on October 7, 2021.
- Victim 5-Shehzad Khuda Bakhsh, who was abducted by security forces on June 4, 2022 and had remained “disappeared” ever since.
While this revelation about the staged killings may come as a shock to others, it is nothing new to the unfortunate people of Balochistan. In fact, the Balochistan Human Rights Council summed it up well by saying:Extrajudicial execution of people Eds [victims of Enforced Disappearances] in staged encounters is not a new phenomenon. The State has been practicing it since the adoption of the policy of emergencies, killing and gutting”!
So, while the Pakistani military may feel that it can continue to claim success in keeping Balochistan under its control through staged killings, the fact is that through its “abduct, kill and dump” policy, Rawalpindi only pushes the persecuted Baluchi to pick up the weapon. And while the world watches impassively, the people of Balochistan live in the ever-present fear of one day forcibly disappearing and, after being killed in a ‘routine’ encounter, being conveniently identified as terrorists.