KARACHI: The protesting families of Balochistan’s missing men reached Karachi Press Club on Friday after an arduous march of 756 kilometres spread over 25 days.
The marchers stayed for the night at Yusuf Goth, in Gadap Town.
Initially the long march, which began from Quetta Press Club on October 27, comprised only the families of the missing men. But on reaching Karachi, a large number of Baloch men, women and children hailing from Hub, Malir, Moach Goth and Lyari joined them at Lyari’s Aath Chowk, raising its strength to over 100 people.
In addition, young volunteers, some on motorbikes and some on foot and with their faces covered, joined the march at Hub. They did so after learning that Qadeer Baloch, vice-president of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, had received threats to his life, one of them told Dawn.
An hour before the families reached KPC, two young men were busy in setting up a protest camp covered with pictures of men who had gone missing. A woman, from Malir, was sitting nearby clutching a passport-sized picture of her brother who went missing from Sharea Faisal on May 22 this year.
The brother, Shakir Haider, was a technician who “just disappeared one night”. She was hopeful that media’s presence at the press club might help her in finding her brother.
Also seen were members of the proscribed Jiye Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), shouting slogans in solidarity with “abducted workers” and “our Baloch brothers”.
However, as soon as the families reached Shaheen Complex, on M.R. Kayani Road, a woman managing the long march asked political workers to put their party flags aside. “This is not a political rally. We are not here to make a political statement,” she shouted into the microphone.
At the press club, rose petals were showered on the families while members of the KPC welcomed them with garlands and Ajrak.
Members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and other rights groups were also present to express solidarity with the families of the missing.
Looking burnt out and thin, ‘Mama’ Qadeer Baloch, as he is now affectionately called by many, found it difficult to speak for a few minutes. But as soon as he regained enough strength, he said: “I won’t sell myself or compromise on our cause in any way. There are some people who asked me on phone to quote my price. I just want to tell them that this protest is not going to end anytime soon.”
CM COMES UNDER FLAK:
Standing beside him, Farzana Majeed, sister of missing senior office-holder of Baloch Student Organisation (BSO-Azad) Zakir Majeed, said: “It is shameful that Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch called it a ‘seasonal march’ while speaking to a TV channel.
I just want to ask him: ‘Did you feel the same when you came to our camp in Quetta asking us to vote for you?
There was utter chaos outside the press club as everyone wanted to salute the families for their fortitude and tenacity. Once inside the club, Qadeer Baloch spoke about the hardship they faced during their trek to Karachi. “My feet are still burning from blisters. I thank the women in the march for giving me courage and perseverance to pull ahead.”
He dwelled on the threats to the life of families who participated in the long march. “As we speak, our homes are being raided. One of our activists is sitting like a captive inside his own home as he is being threatened with death if he joined the long march.”
He informed media that there had been attempts on his life as well.
“On our way from Hub, a car tried to hit me thrice, scattering other members of the long march as well,” he recalled.
Once again, Qadeer Baloch spoke about the remarks of the chief minister and called it an “example of insensitivity to misery”.
He showed resentment over the recent remarks made by Senator Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, a leader of the National Party, that the province had not received any mutilated bodies. “I inform him that we received bodies of two Baloch students just three days ago,” Qadeer retorted.
The past five years were worse for Balochistan than even the Musharraf era, Qadeer observed regretfully. “During the Musharraf era, those who disappeared came back home within a year or two. But over the past five years we received only mutilated bodies dumped in all corners of the province.”
On his part, the chief minister lamented that he was being accused unfairly. “I haven’t said anything like that on any news channel. Instead, I recently said that holding a long march is their (the missing families’) democratic right. He (Mama Qadeer) has probably misunderstood me.
“I believe those who marched all the way from Quetta to Karachi are like members of my family.”
Speaking about the missing, he said there was no “exact figure to quote so I won’t get into that,” but insisted that he wanted to “work on releasing missing men”.
The families will start sitting inside the camp at KPC from Saturday. Qadeer Baloch said he would hold a press conference within a day or two on the issue of missing men.