Baloch awaits Allah as unfazed protestors continue to brave cold in Islamabad

PFA Special

Islamabad: “In the middle of the night, ten heavily armed people wearing no uniform, jumps into our mud-house, wakes us all up with their big black shoes and long gun barrels, hurls us all in a corner of our compound and after searching our meagre household items like few trunks and utensils, leaves with my younger brother (18). None of them spoke Balochi and none of them told us anything why they have come into our house and why and where they were taking my brother,” is the narrative still echoes in my mind from one of the young girls (hardly 16 and name withheld for sake of security reasons) sitting outside the Natioal Press Club in one of the posh sectors of Islamabad. She was just one of many female protestors who have come all the way from far flung areas of Baluchistan to knock on the doors of hard-shelled decision makers as well as kingmakers sitting in a fortified Islamabad.

The Government of Pakistan has long been denying that there is any truth to the claims of missing persons and blames some foreign funded civil society organizations and of course established foreign enemies of the state for bloating an issue. The entire state machniary including judiciary of the country believes that this is nothing more than the proverbial storm in the cup of tea.

The issue of missing persons in Pakistan has been controversial, sensitive, and longstanding since the early 2000s. The majority of reported cases of missing persons sed to come from FATA (nor merged districts in Khyber Pkahtunkhuwa Province–KPK) and Baluchistan, but since past couple of years Sindh and Southern Punjab have also reported cases of missing persons (mostly through media). Government circles and even judicial hierarchy of the country believes that the issue has become a political tool, whereby political parties, opposition parties, nationalist organizations, and civil society groups actually try to settle their respective gains by accusing state institutions of being responsible for the problem of missing persons.

In 2011, on the direction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was established to trace the whereabouts of missing persons while the police were directed to register FIRs (First Information Reports) and determine responsibility. A report, after almost a decade, issued by the commission of inquiry stated that they had received 9,133 complaints, and as of November 2022, 6,926 cases had been solved or disposed of. In December 2022, on the directions from the Balochistan High Court, a new parliamentary commission was constituted in Baluchistan under Home Minister Zia Langove, “to investigate issue of missing persons”, and also “review anti state activities by the missing persons.”

Most of the official statements and conversations with the state authorities culminate to one single point that “the issue has been blown out of proportion for political gains, personal ambitions, and to tarnish state institutions.” They believe that exaggerated figures are circulated and claimed by opposition parties and nationalists, often using social media. Citing the example of Baluchistan National Party (Mengal Group), who even walked out of partnership with PTI government in June 2020—few months before the establishment-back no-confidence motion helped oust PTI government—that despite making vocal claims of 5,000 missing persons, his party could only provide a list of 1,000 individuals to the commission of inquiry headed by former chief justice of Supreme Court Justice (Retired) Javed Iqbal. Federal and provincial ministers are on record having said that some missing persons voluntarily disappeared for political and personal reasons without informing their families and friends. They also often heard citing that the number of missing persons in the US is over 500,000, followed by the UK, Germany, India, and other countries.

Despite all the claims and rebuffing of the provincial and federal state authorities including judiciary, the law enforcement agencies, army and the ruling janta, the voices calling for the release or whereabouts of their loved ones have almost quadrupled over the past 20 years. And more surprisingly, Baluchistan is not the only province from where such voices continue to hit various social media channels (because most of the mainstream TV channels and newspapers can hardly wiggle under the heavy scrutiny of state institutions). Sindh and Southern Punjab seems to have joined the chorus in recent years.
What started in August of 2006 with a simple protest in front of the Supreme Court of Pakistan by rights activist Amina Masood Janjua and Zainab Khatoon, under the banner of “Defence of Human Rights” group has now swelled with similar petitions pending in all provincial courts and even at the supreme court of Pakistan by different rights groups.

Janjua also filed a petition in the Supreme Court (August 2006) seeking information about 16 persons. I recall talking to Amina Janjua at that time (December 2006) to find out that within few months she was swarmed with requests from families to find the whereabouts of 563 missing persons mostly from Baluchistan followed by Sindh. Sindhi groups also began to campaign together against enforced disappearances of those who had been detained as a result of activism for greater rights for their communities.

Interestingly, the suo-moto-famed Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan at that time (Iftikhar Chaudhry) took up this case with the intention of reign in the country’s security agencies (main accused in most of the petitions and cases) but just to find out that even the Supreme Court building is being bugged. And then as the proverbial falling of the curtains, most of the judges of the Supreme Court were sent packing home once Gen. Musharraf’s on 3rd November 2007 declared state of emergency and eventually suspension of the constitution. The issues got further suppressed once the American-led War on Terror provided the much-needed impunity to Gen Musharraf and he happily handed over sweeping powers to the state authorities agencies in 2011 to detain and investigate anyone on suspicion of anti-state activities. The number since then have soared from around 543 to over 19000 across the country, as against the claim of the Government that only 2000 people remain unaccounted for till November 2022.

The recent uprising instigated by the alleged extra-judicial killing of 20-years old Turbat (remote district near Afghanistan border) resident is led by women activists like Mahrang Baloch and has fetched nearly 400 members of the ethnic Baloch community to camp outside the National Press Club in Islamabad for weeks now. Balaach Mola Baksh, as per his family member in the Islamabad camp was abducted from his home in Turbat on the night of October 29 by men in civilian clothes, suspected officials from the security agencies. A missing complaint was filed with the police and eventually after a month-long protest by the locals, he was presented in a court in Turbat on November 21, 2023. Two days later, the family came to know Balaach had been killed in a crossfire when as per official version he was taken to assist the police in the arrest of his terrorist-fellows. The provincial Counter Terrorist Department (CTD) claimed in official press statement that Balaach had confessed his involvement in “terrorist activities” and identified places where his colleagues were hiding. The CTD claimed that its team was attacked during an operation to arrest the fighters, killing Balaach in the crossfire. But his family say it was yet another extrajudicial killing of one of their community members.

Though protestors are seeking the attention of the judiciary and the state institutions in Pakistan by staging this protect in Islamabad, but many of them believe that “since state has become party to the alarming issue of disappearances and extra judicial killings, an independent UN led fact finding mission might help move forward on this issue.” The federal and provincial governments for now are unmoved and UN seems to have not even heard any of these protestors. Some of the protestors have taken the march to Islamabad for at least 7th time in the past 10 years which include on-foot marches and train marches just with the hope that someone might “listen to our plight” and “feel our pain”.


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