Qadeer Baloch misses a thousand heartbeats each time he lifts the sheet of a corpse, afraid it is going to be his son this time. For three years he has seen over a hundred mutilated bodies brought from across Balochistan, all tortured – singed, sliced, eyeballs pulled out, limbs drilled, some unrecognisable due to the acid burns.
“I don’t wish that of even my worst enemy,” says the 62-year father who started the Voice for the Baloch Missing Persons, a support group of families of the abducted. They assemble outside the Quetta Press Club, every day, holding a sit-in as a way of protest.
His son, Jaleel Reki was picked up while he was on his way home from Friday prayers on Feb 13, 2009, and has been missing since.
Reki was politically inclined and was fighting for the rights of the Baloch people, acknowledges his father, who has himself been receiving threats to stop this campaign.
Most family members will tell you openly that those ‘missing’ had nationalist leanings and were raising their voices against years of injustice meted out to the Baloch people.
“I’d be the happiest person on earth if tomorrow my son surfaces, is tried in the court and then sentenced for his crime. I won’t flinch even if he’s sent to the gallows; but to silence all dissenting voices like this is downright cruel,” says Qadeer Baloch.
While all attention remains focused on the US-led war on terror, the atrocities committed on the Balochs, in this mineral-rich province, since 2000, is of little interest to the rest of Pakistan.
Even the media, otherwise robust and active, are unusually silently about the brewing discontent.
Over the last many months, there has been a sudden surfacing of mutilated corpses bearing torture marks of students, teachers, political workers, rights activists, singers, poets, shopkeepers, all who had earlier gone missing.
Rights groups say it is indisputable who is behind this. “The abuses in Balochistan have been perpetrated by the Frontier Corps, Military Intelligence and the Inter Services Intelligence in that order with the FC and MI being the principal abusing agencies,” Human Rights Watch tells Dawn.com.
The same is corroborated by Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “In almost all cases, the perpetrators of enforced disappearances are believed to be intelligence agency personnel. There are eyewitnesses who have testified as such. The Supreme Court has summoned them many times, but they fail to appear,” she says.
Observing the situation in Balochistan to be “extremely precarious”, the HRCP sharing its recent findings in a report titled ‘Blinkered Slide into Chaos’ stated, “All authority in the province seems to vest with the security forces which enjoy complete impunity”.
Denying these charges, the military has alleged that people wearing FC personnel uniforms were behind the abductions and killings.
In an interview to BBC in November 2010, however, Balochistan’s chief minister, Aslam Raisani, insisted that security agencies were “definitely” behind the abductions and killings.
Balochistan, the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan making up 43 percent of the land mass, is on the edge. State oppression combined with youth resentment is gnawing at the province. Many Baloch have taken up arms and turned militant in their bid to seek freedom, yet they lack leadership and a vision to steer them out of the chaos that persists there. In the commotion, the criminal element is taking full advantage.
When forty-something school teacher, Safir Baloch’s mutilated corpse was found (nine months after he was picked up from Civil Hospital, in Panjgur; it was half singed with acid burns. “He had been dead for a month and his body and body parts of his two friends, Abid Shah and Sattar Baloch had been buried at a construction site and accidentally discovered while the place was being dug up,” narrates Sheema Baloch, his sister.
“Even animals are not tortured the way my brother was,” crackles Sheema’s angry voice over phone from Quetta. She is angry with the world and the media in particular.
“We have been protesting for years at the injustice meted out to the Baloch people but it is as if you can’t hear or feel our pain; I’m afraid you’re too late in showing your concern,” she adds and quietly puts the phone down, bringing an end to the conversation.
Sheema’s is not a lone voice of scorn.
Rukhsana Langho, a 25-year old student “hates” Pakistan and wants “freedom”.
Strong words indeed coming from a Pakistani, but the pain and anger in her voice cannot
be assuaged, not until her ‘disappeared’ brother, Mir Ghaffar Langho, 35, comes back, alive. (The writer spoke to Rukhsana Langho last week and the day after filing this story found out that her brother’s tortured body was found at Gadani).
Mehr Jan, 28, a young Baloch woman has not had the misfortune of experiencing a loved one being picked up but having seen between 60-70 mutilated bodies she can empathise and feel a real pain “of the mothers, wives and children who have sacrificed their dear ones in the name of freedom”.
In 2005, she, along with other like-minded educated women formed the Baloch Women Panel to show their solidarity for the families of the missing and raise awareness among the women that it was time to “stand shoulder to shoulder with our men in the struggle for independence”.
By 2007 the forum had enough members to help collect data of the ‘missing’ from all over Balochistan.
“Unlike men, we could go house-to-house and talk to women,” said Jan. She recalls the historic rally the Balochi women took out in Quetta on August 14, that year. “It was a huge success attended by almost 5,000 women from across Balochistan,” she narrated.
“It’s a struggle that is not going to be quelled, Jan says, because mothers, sisters and wives are in it all the way. She narrates what Faiz Bibi said when she saw the mutilated body of her 28-year old son Kareem Baloch. A law student in Sibi, he was kidnapped by security forces on February 14, 2011 and his dead body found on April 17, 2011 with a chit saying ‘Pakistan Zindabad, Balochistan Murdabad (Long live Pakistan, Death to Balochistan)’.
On seeing her son’s body, says Jan, Bibi thanked God and said she would not hesitate to sacrifice her other two sons and that Kareem had made her proud. “She did not weep at her loss and there was no lamentation,” said Jan.
“Under such circumstances, how can I not feel for these mothers and wives who are left to fend for themselves?” counters Jan saying: “There are countless homes where the only bread-earner is no more, where children have stopped going to school and where they do not even have two square meals,” Jan explains.
Jan remembers her childhood when they would sing the nation al anthem and hoist the Pakistan flag every morning at assembly in school. “My younger cousins tell me that does not happen anymore. That stopped in 2009 when state violence reached its zenith.”
In so much heartburn, 27-year old Malik Siraj Akbar’s voice seems saner than ever. The young editor of the online newspaper, Baloch Hal (which has been blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority since last November) supports reconciliation.
The only way out, according to Akbar is for the state to make overtures towards the people of Balochistan and address their grievances. But the problem is, he says: “The establishment is diversity blind and does not recognise ethnic or political diversity.” According to him all parameters of patriotism are set in Islamabad. Those who do not fit into the mould of the “centralised Pakistani Muslim” or do “not believe in a certain political discourse”, are labelled anti-state and their voices quashed”.
And warns Qadeer Baloch – if the state does not handle the perilous situation, it will soon be too late with “an East-Pakistan like situation”. There is urgency in his voice.
Zofeen T. Ebrahim is a freelance journalist.