Balochistan’s wounds

Published December 19, 2023

THE state’s usual response to grievances from Balochistan is either to ignore them, or crack down on those raising voices for their rights. This unfortunate formula has only fostered alienation and resentment in Pakistan’s biggest province. The handling of the protests triggered by the controversial death of Balaach Mola Baksh last month is a classic example of this failed approach. The slain man was killed under mysterious circumstances in Turbat allegedly by the CTD in an ‘encounter’. His family have disputed the official version, saying that he had been in custody since October, and in fact had been presented in court a few days before his killing. The CTD insists Balaach was killed by ‘insurgents’ during a raid. The protests around the man’s killing have been continuing in Makran since late November, with political activists and human rights bodies supporting the family’s call for justice. Last week, the demonstrators entered Quetta and from the provincial capital it was decided to march to Islamabad to highlight their cause. From Quetta, under the banner of the Baloch Yakjehti Council, the marchers had been passing through different towns of the province. However, on Sunday, the protesters were stopped in Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab. Numerous marchers were reportedly detained, including women, though the administration says they were later released. The marchers were apparently stopped due to ‘violation’ of Section 144.

If the marchers are peacefully exercising their right to protest, the state has no business detaining them. Either the demands of the protesters — a transparent investigation into the case and an end to the arbitrary detention of Baloch youth — should be satisfactorily met, or the marchers allowed to proceed to the Supreme Court to express their plaints. The protest in question is sadly following the same trajectory as others before it, namely the Haq Do Tehreek, and movements calling for an end to enforced disappearances in Balochistan. When these demands are ignored, or the protesters are given empty promises, it only adds to the distance between the people of Balochistan and the state. This sense of deprivation and helplessness is often exploited by separatist militants. The people of Balochistan must be assured that the state cares for them, and that the Constitution’s fundamental rights apply to them just as they are supposed to apply to the rest of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2023

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