THAT Wahid Baloch was kidnapped by unidentified plainclothesmen from the outskirts of Karachi in an incident bearing the signature of the mother of all agencies was not perplexing; what was incomprehensible was that the kidnapping went unnoticed by our free media.
Who is Wahid Baloch? Comrade, as his friends call him, is a 52-year-old telephone operator at Civil Hospital Karachi but he is better known for his social work, his passion for books and for standing up for victims of injustice.
This last Wednesday, Comrade Wahid Baloch was returning to Karachi from a trip to interior Sindh after offering condolences at the passing away of a friend when his bus was intercepted near the outskirts of the metropolis by some men travelling in a Toyota Vigo, double-cabin pick-up.
If he was actually guilty of a violation of the law, why couldn’t charges be filed and an arrest effected as per the law?
Two of the men then boarded the coach, had a good look at the passengers, singled out Comrade Wahid Baloch, asked him to show his national identity card and checked the document. One of the agents also pulled out a smartphone from his pocket and apparently verified it was Baloch from an image/photo he had brought with him.
Once satisfied they had their man, they asked him to accompany them off the bus. When a friend and fellow-traveller protested and tried to get up, he was pushed down and told rather curtly to mind his own business. Hurrying their captive into the 4x4 the men sped away.
Within hours, the news was on social media. It was also said that when Wahid Baloch’s family were informed by his friend of the incident and tried to file an FIR at the Gadap police station, the policemen refused to register a kidnapping case. In the end a compromise was reached and their complaint was ‘received’ by the police.
I have a vague recollection of seeing him at the Karachi Press Club some years back but can’t claim to know him well at all. Nonetheless, having talked to some of his friends and acquaintances the profile that emerges is of a wonderful man.
From his place of work, Civil Hospital Karachi, there are endless anecdotes and stories of how he helped patients who came from interior Sindh and remote parts of Balochistan. He tried his best that the language barrier not leave them distressed as he guided them around the hospital in his free time and got them doctors’ appointments.
He was said to be a lover of books, and ran or supported a library in Malir. Anyone who took a decent manuscript to him was never disappointed as he would somehow find the resources to get it published, in the process often doing a fair bit of work himself.
His love for Balochi language and literature was legendary. His close circle of friends say he was not only a voracious reader but also a keen collector of books and knew of every single second-hand book shop where, for example, a Kafka could be secured for a bargain.
Someone who had first taken part in the MRD campaign against Gen Ziaul Haq’s military rule as a teenager in the streets of Lyari under the dynamic leadership of Mir Ghous Bux Bizenjo, Comrade Wahid Baloch grew up to be a man with a strong sense of right and wrong; a compassionate human being with his heart in the right place.
Whether it was helping the family members of the ‘disappeared’ Baloch organise their protest at the Karachi Press Club or taking part in the public condemnation of social activist Sabeen Mahmud’s murder, Wahid Baloch could always be seen on the front lines.
What could a man of books, of literature, a true humanitarian, who spent so much time helping patients at CHK, have done to have been ‘disappeared’ like he was? If he was actually guilty of a violation of the law, why couldn’t charges be filed and an arrest effected as per the law?
I hope to God better sense prevails and those who are never held to account for any of their transgressions, even outright trampling of citizens’ fundamental rights, don’t snuff out yet another innocent life in the name of Pakistan’s integrity. One can only beg our ‘saviours’ to spare Wahid Baloch’s life whatever his perceived crime.
You may feel I am unduly concerned but the record of our forces in terms of the return of the ‘disappeared’ hardly inspires any confidence. Their initial justification for such actions was the absence of adequate laws to deal with the unusual threats facing Pakistan.
Then parliament gave the security forces wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention without trial; trials by military courts. Even now if the midnight knocks don’t end, if people continue to be ‘disappeared’ and if twisted, tormented bodies bearing torture marks continue to be found then all we will do is to encourage the law of the jungle.
If communities and ethnic groups are oppressed for merely peacefully raising their grievances, many of those legitimate and justified, then what civilised course are we leaving them open to follow. Baloch grievances are political in nature and not rooted in the dogma of some mediaeval ideology and, therefore, can be addressed in a reasonable manner. Riding roughshod is counterproductive.
And when the dispensation of such ‘justice’ is not indiscriminate it adds insult to injury. Look at what is happening in Karachi. The mayor-elect of the metropolis is now being charged with crimes from May 12, 2007 because of his political affiliation. He is imprisoned pending trial or bail from the superior courts.
A key uniformed member of the Musharraf regime, who was said to have ordered many of the measures that led to the May 12, 2007 carnage, sits in his Lahore home comfortable in the knowledge that he is out of reach of the law’s arm. Is this justice?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2016