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Haunted by surveillance: Tracking the victims of a domestic kill & dump policy

Line of Freedom

by Wendy Johnson

I thank the Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO) for inviting me to this event and Noordin Mengal and his collaborators for this great achievement in film.

Since 2010, with the help of Baloch activists, I’ve been compiling profiles of the victims of abductions and the kill and dump policy in Pakistan in a database called

Initially I was hopeful that with the spread of smartphones, we would be able to get first responders and witnesses to upload the voluminous forensic evidence, for ex., photos of victims, footprints around the victims, tire tracks, blood spatter patterns, location coordinates, FIRs (First Information Report), autopsy reports and so on. This was clearly the hope of someone who watched too much TV in America.

For in a nation where police and doctors themselves are threatened by security forces and their enforcers, and when people don’t know how to communicate safely given the proliferation of surveillance tools, it couldn’t happen the way I had envisioned.

In this regard I want to thank a private company, Silent Circle, who offered us four free encrypted phone numbers for use by Baloch to communicate the news. While Silent Circle is a for-profit company, they want to help human rights groups whose members don’t have the funding required for security tools. In the end, ironically, we were unable to use those phone numbers because while the communications themselves are encrypted, the access points are not. And because Pakistan deploys surveillance software like FinFisher, sold to them by the West, Pakistan can identify and target users of encryption.

One feature of the database that has astonished me over the years is that when a kill & dump victim is found on a roadside, more often than not, when I enter his name into the database—he is not already recorded as missing. So while the database, at present, only lists approximately 1,500 persons as missing or murdered, we know that the numbers of missing are far far greater.

As the lists of abductees and murder victims grew longer, particularly in late 2010, activists were confident that the world would intervene if ONLY they could be made aware of the magnitude of the crisis.

The documents revealed by Jeremy Hammond and Barrett Brown, however, quickly disabused us of such magical thinking. Following the Stratfor leaks we learned that Stratfor had long supplied a big roster of corporations and officials with, in part, volumes of news about of the war, the abductions and killings. And once these documents were revealed, the justice system sprang into action—not to advocate for the Baloch, but to charge and imprison the hacker and the sharer of the hack: Jeremy Hammond for 10 years and Barrett Brown for 5 years after lengthy pre-trial incarcerations.

Moreover, thanks to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, we know that the United States is very well informed about the situation in Balochistan and is prepared to act, though not necessarily in the way we had expected. This is former US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson in a 2010 cable:

"... post believes that we should watch out for consideration of some type of exchange of [Afghan Taliban leader Mullah] Berader with [Brahamdagh] Bugti..."

For those who advocate on behalf of the Baloch, the cynicism is breathtaking.

As is the failure of the investigations into these crimes.

In 2009, for example, visiting Norwegian citizen Ehsan Arjemandi was yanked off a bus in broad daylight in Balochistan. Because there were numerous witnesses to the abduction, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rahman Malik acknowledged to a Norwegian journalist with NRK, Atta Ansari, that Ehsan was in custody for a passport violation. That was 2009. Ehsan has not been heard from since despite the herculean efforts on the part of his Western friends in Norway. Similarly, both high profile BSO-Azad office holders, Zakir Majeed, abducted in 2009, and Zahid Baloch, abducted in 2014, were swept away in front of eye-witnesses and vanished without a trace.

Though probably there is a trace. Thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know of the #NSA and #GCHQ’s vast surveillance powers and ability to vacuum data from around the world. How hard could it be to establish leads to the perpetrators of these crimes in Balochistan if they were deemed important to national security? And what could be more important to international security than a non-radicalized and stable Balochistan?

For a time I had hoped that Pakistan might produce its own whistleblower. For ex., in the pockets of some of the tortured and dumped bodies are found notes. A few are hand-written taunts, but a few are simply the names of the victims. I like to imagine that the person writing these names has a heart and was secretly slipping notes into the pockets so that the families might find some peace. And that one day, that person would come forward to tell the world what he knew.

But if that had ever been a possibility, I’m sure it’s not an attractive one, for he will have seen how whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and others in America are treated—not with respect, but with prison.

Today Balochistan is like a horror film production where all the producers, actors and crew know the plot and how things will end for the actors. The Baloch are its audience, still sitting in the dark, waiting for the horror to end. And the rest of us, well, to paraphrase a quote by Christine Fair in a Newsweek interview, “The Pakistanis [are pulling] us around like we’re on roller skates.”

Pepe Escobar had it right when he said, “As it must be clear by now, Pakistan is essentially an army/intelligence establishment disguised as a country.

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Related Links and further reading: ("During a recent visit to the southern Punjabi cities of Multan and Bahawalpur, Principal Officer's discussions with religious, political, and civil society leaders were dominated by discussions of the perceived growing extremist threat in Seraiki and Baloch areas in southern and western Punjab. Interlocutors repeatedly stressed that recruitment activities by extremist religious organizations, particularly among young men between the ages of 8 and 15, had increased dramatically over the last year. Locals blamed the trend on a strengthening network of Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith mosques and madrassas, which they claimed had grown exponentially since late 2005.")