Fazal Muhammad Khan
Neither the damp cold of Khuzdar, nor the blazing heat at Uthal; and neither the rough mountainous topography of Sindh and Balochistan, and nor the life threats to their caravan could stop them. Here they are in Karachi at Karachi Press Club: the 25 families – inclusive of females, elders and children as young as 7 years old – of missing persons having travelled 780 kilometers on foot from Quetta for 26 consecutive days.
It was a nonstop action; they had to spend their nights on the roadsides, and days treading towards Karachi. Their each step did nothing but made them resolute in their cause: calling on the government, the UN and the international community to bring to justice the security apparatus of the country responsible for forced disappearances and other atrocities against the people of Balochistan.
Among the participants of Long March, there was a seven years old son of Jelil Reki who has allegedly been tortured to death after being disappeared by the security officials. Others include people like Nasrullah Baloch whose uncle has been missing for eleven years, and a youth activist Farzana Majeed whose brother was arrested by FC in 2009, and has been missing since then. The most important among the protesters is Mama Qadeer Baloch, the organizer of this march, whose cousin and son had been disappeared, the latter’s dead body was found later on. They all have one thing to say: intelligence agencies have abducted, tortured and killed their loved ones.
Balochistan is important both strategically and economically. It borders Iran and Afghanistan, enjoys cultural diversity, has the second largest supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan, and is also deemed to be a home for the so-called Quetta Shura of the Taliban in the provincial capital, Quetta. Complicating the situation further is a large number of foreign nations with an economic or political stake in the mineral-rich province, including the United States, China, Iran, India, and the United Arab Emirates.
Balochistan’s relationship with the federation has largely been begrudged due to the issues of lack of provincial autonomy, control over the province’s resources, and the economic and political repression by the successive central governments.
The situation aggravated further after the two assassination attempts on former President Pervez Musharraf during his 2005 and 2006 visits to Balochistan which led to crackdown on Baloch nationalists by security agencies. In the backdrop of the assassination of Sardar Akbar Bugti, these operations further fueled the fire.
These ruthless operations coupled with US led War on Terror since 2001 have resulted in thousands of individuals being ‘disappeared’. Since 2005, human rights organizations have recorded serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced disappearances, forced displacement, and excessive use of force. They count the number of missing persons between 800 and 1000. However the participants of the long march claim that the figure of abduction by security agencies amounts to more than 18000 following the death of Akbar Bugti. Of them, 1,500 were killed in targeted attacks.
Though repeatedly denied by the security agencies, both Supreme Court of Pakistan and human rights organizations are positive about the involvement of intelligence agencies in forced disappearances. Government of Pakistan has also admitted in July via attorney general that there are more than 500 “missing persons” in the custody of security agencies. Leaving aside the contention of exact number of missing persons, this certainly verifies the existence of this heinous practice.
Shocking it is. What is, however, more shocking is the fact that the mainstream media remains indifferent and apathetic towards this sensitive issue which has the potential to turn volatile. Amid the uproar of debates on drone attacks, sectarian tensions, and cricket, the grave issue of Baloch missing persons and this outstanding long march have largely been ignored by the media. The act of ignoring such issues, whether deliberately or mistakenly, can be fatally infectious to the larger socio-political fabric of the state.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its October report made following recommendations for bringing an end to forced disappearances and human rights violations:
– Standard Operating Procedures should be developed to regulate the engagement of security forces and intelligence agencies in the province.
– Policing should be reformed and FC should be removed from the province as FC deployment has always proved counterproductive.
– The heads of FC and the intelligence agencies should issue warnings to their forces to discontinue human rights violations and the perpetrators should be brought to justice.
– The government of Balochistan should appoint a human rights adviser to the Chief Minister with a mandate to improve human rights conditions in Balochistan.
– A police academy should be established for the training of police force with a view to raise the morale of police force which largely remains reluctant to tackle crimes of trivial nature, not to talk of crimes of forced disappearances and abductions, and a forensic laboratory should also be built in Balochistan.
– Government should do away with the categorization, such as ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas, of various regions in Balochistan.
– The key development projects in Balochistan must be completed at the earliest keeping in mind that the people of Balochistan fully support the restoration of peace and political stability in the province.
– The media should pledge its part in highlighting and giving sufficient and unbiased coverage to human rights, governance and other issues in Balochistan.
Such steps and recommendations, if transformed into actions, have the potential to ameliorate the condition of human rights in Balochistan and bring peace in the conflict ridden province.
Back in Balochistan, the bleak situation of law and order is a constant source of fear for the citizens. Kidnapping for ransom remains unchecked and increasing exponentially, and the abductors are almost never traced. Religious minorities and various sects are consistently prone to violence and attacks. Civil society organizations have abandoned their work in the conflict-hit parts of the province. Women remain voiceless and are continuously intimidated by extremist and sectarian elements.
Amid frustration and mental torture of the families and relatives of missing persons, the likes of Mama Qadeer and Farzana Baloch continue to stand against the state policy of viewing Balochistan only from the prism of security.
Before the situation in Balochistan explodes further, those at the helm of affairs need to act now. For it they do not, it will be too late to act then.
The writer is a graduate of GC University Lahore, a holder of Roll of Honor, and former Editor of "The Scientific Ravi”. Currently he is General Secretary at Institute for Development Education and Advocacy (IDEA) and can be reached at email@example.com.