Volume 5, No. 3, March 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
On January 20, 2018, five days after the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) reportedly agreed to suspend their protest for the recovery of missing persons for two months, a newspaper gave the good news: “Around a dozen people missing for many years reached home over the past three days in different areas of Balochistan, including Kalat, Mashkay, Noshki, Gwadar and Pasni.” However, Mama Qadeer, Vice President VBMP, categorically disputes the report’s version of the suspension of the protest and a list of only 110 missing persons submitted to the Balochistan government.
The report added: “Mehran Khyiazai has returned seven years after his disappearance, Abdul Karim Musazai from Saindak (three years), Haji Ghulam Dastagir Mohammad Hasni from Dalbandin (three years), Kabir Ahmed and Mohammad Ewaz Killi from Qadirabad Noshki (four years), Abdul Samad Langove, Mohammad Ibrahim Kalat and Khalid Naveed from Mashkay (eight months) and Khan Mohammad Bugti Kashangi from Noshki (six years). Zakir Dad and Abdul Sattar who hail from the Surbandan area of Gwadar district have returned to their homes after four years and 18 months respectively, while Asif Nazar of Pasni rejoined his family after eight years on Saturday.” This indeed is a happy day for the relatives of those who returned.
This good news and happiness at their fortunate return should not obscure the real issues at stake in Balochistan and any self-congratulatory messages of individuals or political parties should be weighed and only then lauded because the releases are on the authorities’ choice and terms in which the Baloch have no say; moreover these releases raise more questions than they answer.
These releases prove that it is the Pakistani authorities that are solely responsible for the disappearances of those who returned and those thousands who are still missing. The questions as to who disappeared them, why were they disappeared, where were they kept, were they tortured, who will be held responsible for the years they lost and trauma they and their relatives suffered, will anyone be punished for this crime against humanity or it will like always be business as usual with all those responsible for disappearances continuing to enjoy their lives while the lives of the victims and their relatives remain scarred forever?
These questions demand answers in the interests of justice and the rule of law. The wounds inflicted are too deep to be healed or forgotten by the enactment of ‘bad cop’ (federal government) and ‘good cop’ (Jam’s government) dramas.
The disappearances and denials are not a fiction created by Baloch activists or the media; these are as real as life itself. The Supreme Court (SC) had held nearly a hundred hearings on the issue of missing persons a few years ago; the process was long on rhetoric but pathetically short on action. The former Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Chaudhary was very vocal on the issue but the missing persons’ fate remained unchanged because the will to provide justice just wasn’t there. The Inspector General of the Frontier Corps (FC) repeatedly refused to appear before the SC and once when CCTV showed FC personnel abducting Baloch activists, he claimed that persons impersonating FC had done this. During a hearing at the Quetta Registry of the SC in July 2012, the former CJP had said that the FC is accused of picking up every third missing person but still no action was taken.
In June 2013 the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) recommended filing criminal cases against some 117 serving officials of the law enforcement agencies allegedly involved in missing persons’ cases but no action followed. In January 2013 bodies were found in mass graves in Tutak; among them were some missing persons while many remained unidentified. Ironically the investigating commission set up to investigate the Tutak graves did not hold anyone responsible, as if these bodies had rained down in some freak occurrence. Such lame Commissions dutifully cover-up these crimes and leave people at the mercy of death squads to which the state has allegedly outsourced its ‘dirty war’ in Balochistan.
The death squads were and are a reality in Balochistan, but they are sanitised by calling them ‘patriotic elements’. In July 2011 General Javed Zia, talking to local editors and senior journalists at the Quetta Press Club, dispelled a perception that the army, FC or any other agency was involved in such killings and said that it was not the policy of the army leadership. However, he went on to add that some Baloch youths had burnt the national flag just for the sake of money or carried out subversive activities. As a result, they were hit by patriotic elements. He said the army was trying to restore the confidence of the people so they would hoist the flag with respect. Professor Saba Dashtyari was also killed by a death squad.
A culture of impunity prevails. Two years ago and sometime before these very recent returns quite a few disappeared persons turned up. Some were bloggers like Waqas Goraya, some were Baloch activists like Wahid Baloch, others some Baloch students. The good thing was that they were released but the worst aspect is that they refuse to discuss their ordeal because of the fear that they may be made to suffer again or their relatives would be harmed. Although Waqas Goraya came out with details as he lives abroad, no human rights organization or the super active judiciary has investigated these abductions to at least name those who abducted and tortured these people.
For the perpetrators of these atrocities, the Conventions and Protocols on human rights are not even worth the paper they are written on. Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture on June 3, 2010 but inhuman treatment of persons in custody continues. Despite efforts by Amnesty International and others, Pakistan has neither signed nor ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPED), which came into force on December 23, 2010.
The relatives of the missing and killed persons have sought legal recourse but got no justice. The Baloch people have protested peacefully through the VBMP and Baloch Human Rights Organisation (BHRO) but have gone unheard. Mama Qadeer has observed a token hunger strike outside press clubs in Quetta, Karachi and Islamabad for nearly 10 years since July 27, 2009 but has only now got a tepid response from the Balochistan government simply because too many families had started to join the protest camp and invited general condemnation of the regime of enforced disappearances. Mama Qadeer, Banuk Farzana Majeed, other young women and youth of the affected families undertook a historic, nearly 3,000 kilometres and 106-days-long protest march from Quetta to Islamabad in 2013-14 to highlight the issue of missing persons but not a soul was released. Instead, not only were the marchers regularly threatened but even those who hosted them en route were harassed.
Mama Qadeer Baloch has been instrumental in highlighting the issue of Baloch missing persons and one can only respect him for his persistent and unrelenting struggle. Therefore this piece should not be considered a criticism of his decision to talk to the provincial authorities but it is necessary for all to understand that it is not only the release of the abducted persons that is the goal of the Baloch struggle. The goal is that justice is done to all affected by the enforced disappearances and the ‘kill and dump policy’ by pinpointing and punishing those responsible for these crimes against humanity. Unless this is done within a concrete framework, the abductions may continue and the Baloch people will continue to suffer.
More importantly, the Baloch people should understand that they have not only to own up those who have suffered at the hands of the state but that they must own up the cause for which these brave Baloch people put their lives on the line and have suffered and continue to suffer immeasurably. It was for us that they suffered and continue to suffer. Until and unless we own up not only them but their cause as well, we will be guilty of disrespecting their sacrifices and history will not forgive us for forsaking these victims.