Baloch Daughters Come To Islamabad Seeking News About “Missing Persons”

Developing Just Leadership

Waseem Shehzad

Jumada' al-Akhirah 19, 1445 2024-01-01

News & Analysis

by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 11, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1445)

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

In their customary brutality, the Islamabad police attacked hundreds of Baloch girls, mothers and men as they arrived in Islamabad on December 20. Their sojourn to the federal capital was to seek information from government officials about Baloch “missing persons”.

Organized by the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC), roughly translated as Baloch Solidarity Committee, the march had started from Turbat in Balochistan on December 6 after another Baloch youth was shot and killed by Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) operatives. The Baloch refer to these as “extra-judicial killings”.

The caravan consisting of girls, women and men was denied buses at the toll plaza so they decided to walk into the city, many bare-foot. They arrived at the National Press Club to stage a sit-in to draw attention to the cases of “missing persons” and extrajudicial killings. These are taboo subjects, banned by the army from being mentioned. We will shortly see why.

The BYC demands are very simple. There are more than 100 persons missing in Balochistan. The state should either press charges against them and give them a chance for defence in a court of law, or release them. For decades, thousands of Baloch have been murdered in extra-judicial killings by CTD which most observers view not as a counter-terrorism force but terrorists. It is controlled by the intelligence agency, ISI.

Some Baloch have been missing for more than 15 years. Their family members, especially wives, do not know whether they are dead or alive. Sammi Deen Baloch, one of the march organizers, said her father, a medical doctor, was abducted from the hospital in Khuzdar in 2009. The family still does not know whether he is dead or alive. BYC members called on government officials to meet them so that they could get some answers.

The background to the Baloch tragedy must be understood properly but first let us address the issue of Islamabad police brutality. The peaceful Baloch protesters were viciously attacked and 283 men, women and children were arrested. Is holding a peaceful protest unlawful in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan?

Interestingly, the police action was strongly condemned by human rights organisations, politicians, the Islamabad High Court (IHC), President Dr Arif Alvi and caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar. The latter is from Balochistan, as is the chairman of the Senate and chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Lest it creates the impression that the Baloch are well represented in government, this misconception must be dispelled. The elite in Pakistan have nothing in common with ordinary people. Baloch elites live in gated communities with their Punjabi, Sindhi and Pathan counterparts. The plight of ordinary Baloch is of little concern to them.

The BYC on December 21 issued a three-day ultimatum to the authorities to either release their detained colleagues—men and women— and all cases against them quashed or they will be responsible for the consequences. The caretaker government set up a committee to meet BYC representatives and assured them that all detainees would be released. The following day, the Islamabad police said the detainees had been granted bail and will be released but the BYC said this was not the case.

On December 24, the caretaker government said it was holding negotiations with the protesters. Interior Secretary Aftab Akbar Durrani emphasised that staging peaceful protests was every Pakistani’s right. “We have ensured, on the orders of the prime minister, that no protesters are harmed, tortured or harassed in any way,” he noted in a statement.

Was any action taken against the Islamabad police for their brutal action? The Islamabad High Court had ordered them to release all detainees. The court advised the capital police chief to concentrate on controlling street crimes rather than flexing their muscles against peaceful protesters.

With their long march and sit-in at the National Press Club, the Baloch youth have drawn attention to their suffering that has been largely ignored by Pakistani officials and the media. The Baloch are branded as ‘terrorists’ and any killings that occur are said to be the result of “encounters” with CTD personnel.

This nonsensical allegation was repeated at a press conference in Quetta by the Balochistan caretaker Information Minister Jan Achakzai (Last month he called for providing military bases to the US in Balochistan!). Achakzai alleged that “Missing persons are Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) terrorists — they are in the mountains or they are being taught in India’s training camps.” He provided no proof for such scandalous allegations.

In interviews on social media platforms, two young Baloch ladies—Sammi Deen Baloch and Dr Mahrang Baloch—explained in very calm and composed manner that if the state believes that any Baloch is a terrorist, he should be charged with the crime and presented in a court of law. On what basis are these young men shot and killed in cold-blood, they demanded to know. Dr. Mahrang’s father was kidnapped in 2009 and his bullet-riddled body delivered two years later.

Extrajudicial killings have been going on in Balochistan for decades but the recent protest was sparked by the killing of Balaach Maula Baksh, a young Baloch who was abducted from his home by the CTD on October 29, 2023, according to his lawyer Jadain Dahshti. On November 20, the CTD admitted to arresting him and filing a First Information Report (FIR) against him for “possessing 5 kg of explosives”. Two days later, the CTD announced that he had been killed in an “encounter” in which three other Baloch youth were also killed.

Balochistan has been wracked by state-sponsored terrorism in which Baloch youth are murdered by the army in fake encounters. We will consider the reasons for this disturbing situation but first, let us understand what is going on in Balochistan. It has much to do with the US war on terror.

After the events of 911, then Pakistani dictator, General Pervez Musharraf gave the Americans a free hand in Pakistan. The Shamsi air base in Balochistan was handed over to complete American control without any Pakistani being allowed in. The Americans carried out air and drone strikes in Afghanistan from the base.

At the same time, the Pakistan army launched operations against the Baloch youth who protested the intrusion of American forces into the province. The Baloch have long complained that while their province is rich in mineral resources and produces the natural gas that is used for heating and cooking in the homes of elite in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, their homes have no heating. They also lack other basic necessities of life such as clean drinking water, food and proper roads.

Instead of addressing these grievances, the army has been attacking peaceful Baloch protesters. Army units are given targets to accomplish: they must provide figures for the number of “terrorists” they have killed. That is where the Pakistan army acts as an occupation force. There is little to distinguish it from the actions of the Indian army in Kashmir.

In 2006, Musharraf even ordered the murder of 80-year-old Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former governor and chief minister of the province. This further exacerbated an already tense situation in Balochistan.

Why is the army continuing with the genocidal policy against its own people? It was this disastrous policy that led to the shameful surrender of tens of thousands of Pakistani troops in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. Then military dictator, General Yahya Khan and his henchmen were hell-bent on teaching the Bengalis a “lesson”. Despite their humiliating surrender, the army refuses to learn any lessons and continues with the same disastrous policy against its citizens in other provinces, primarily in Balochistan.

Why are the Baloch being targeted? The province’s vast mineral resources are being sold off to foreign entities without any consultation with the people of Balochistan. This is grand larceny. The generals and their henchmen will get rich while the people of Balochistan will remain mired in poverty.

Their current protest, however, is not about mineral resources but their missing loved ones. There are Baloch women who do not know whether their husband is dead or alive who has been missing for 15-16 years. They are seeking answers but there is nobody to provide them.

This is exactly the situation of Kashmiri women under Indian occupation. Pakistani officials and media are quick to condemn such actions of the Indian army yet they shamelessly continue with the same policy in Balochistan.

Never before have hypocrisy and barbarism been practised in such a brazen manner.

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