Dawn News

Reluctant Pakistanis

Over the last many months, there has been a sudden surfacing of mutilated corpses bearing torture marks of students, political workers, rights activists, all who had earlier gone missing. - File Photo

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.

Comments (11) Closed

Saad, Lahore
Jul 04, 2011 03:02pm
I have been reading about the balochistan issue for the last 3 years and yet there seems to be no end in sight to the dreadful issue of missing person and extrajudicial murders in the name of security. Is this not a serious enough issue when compared to drone attacks or corrupt politicians? Do our baloch brethren not merit the support of people of other provinces and especially punjabis in their hour of trial? Is is it not criminal on part of our political leadership that they do not condemn these excesses on our own brothers which are routine and are conducted with impunity? Does it always have to be like this that any dissenting voice in Pakistan is put down by force? How many times do people have to rebel to demand their rights? It is high time that those in power learn to respect all brands of political activism and engage with people across the board. Lets embrace the diversity of our country and its people. Lets not blame all the disturbance originating out of the sardari system. The baloch have a right to live by that system if they choose to. Democracy itself gives them this right. Lets solve their problems for a change!
Jul 04, 2011 03:49pm
This is frightening and is there anyone answerable to this immediately??? Chief Justice Saheb see what is happening in your own place of living
Jul 04, 2011 04:16pm
Its reaaly shocking that our Baloch brethren are faced with such a tyrinical circumstances but to only pin point Pakistani security agencies for all that is wrong in Baluchistan is beyond rational comprehension. There are certainly other forces at work there.
Jul 04, 2011 11:25pm
its sad that missing persons are Being killed. But at the same time, we should forget the killings of thousands of Innocent migrated who were killed just for being non Balochis. They included, women, old, poor, teachers, doctors, professors, intellectuals,traders etc. Did any court give them justice. I think though its inhumane but its reaction of wrong doings of ultra nationalist Tribal chiefs, who never worked for the empowerment of masses. .
Jul 05, 2011 03:44am
Its really sad that we haven't learned any thing from our history. The intelligence agencies needs to understand that the Baloch freedom struggle can not be crushed violently,we have to find a political solution. big and powerful nations have tried and failed in crushing separatist movements the Chechens in Russia, Tibet in China, FARC in Columbia etc, No matter how strong the military is, this country wont survive a civil war! in fact that's the problem with our army leadership,they always overestimate themselves! The time has come for the military to understand that if they truly want to save Pakistan then they should take a back seat and let the political leadership(no matter how in competent the seem)to take the decisions for this country.
Jul 05, 2011 04:48am
The sad part is that mainstream media and society are completely ignorant of the grim situation in Balochistan.
Jul 05, 2011 10:03am
I am a Bangladeshi. In 1971, Baloch leaders pleaded with Sheikh Mujib not to abandon them by secceeding, because they feared that once Bangladesh goes its way, the pressure on the Baloch will only intensify. In fact, that really happened. Gen Tikka went to Balochistan to do what he did in B'desh in 1971.
Jul 05, 2011 11:13am
it was in 1995 that i last visited quett and it surrounding areas. i could sense a feeling of alienation. i have been reading these reports of deaths and mutilations for a long time. the time is coming fast when we have a "balochistan freedom" movement. unless some serious and well adverstised mending of ways is undertaken, it wont be NWFP or sindh but balochistan that will break away in a very bloody manner. this is how the wall will fall!!!
Jul 05, 2011 11:32am
i read the view by one of the readers that "There are certainly other forces at work there." let me tell u onething. unless you change this attittude and recongnize ur faults as urs,nothing is going to change . In india, we are having similar problems in Maoist areas. but we dont blame external forces for that.As an educated indian, i know that root cuase of that is the criminal negligence of the indian govt to the needs of those people - and that the fault entirely lies with us. one more thing is, a stable pakistan is india's need. A politcilally unstable neighbour will be a nightmare. India has enough sense not to intervene in pakistan's internal issues.
Vishnu Mahant
Jul 10, 2011 03:23am
Reading from responses tells me that most people understand Baluchistan issues. Blaming other countries or killing your people under pressure to prove we are fighting terrorism can't be the solution. You must address Baluchi people's problems, and then no outsiders can create problem for Pakistan.
Jul 11, 2011 03:28pm
The massive killings have reached their peak in last ten years. Due to military's violation and no end to mass injustices and brutal killings, its time to investigate mass murders and UN should step in for immediate enquiry. There needs to be accountablty framework for Balochistan