Unheard cries

Published January 1, 2024

IN the aftermath of the deployment of force against peaceful Baloch protesters in Islamabad, a critical question arises: what does the state owe to its citizens, especially those who have been marginalised for decades? The plight of the Baloch, embroiled in a struggle for recognition and justice, is a clarion call for immediate attention from the state. The ongoing movement in Balochistan, as highlighted by the Baloch activists, is not just a political issue; it is a humanitarian crisis. For over seven decades, the people of Balochistan have faced severe challenges , with peaceful protests considered a “sin”, in the words of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee. The Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received 9,967 cases up to August 2023. Of these, 2,708 are from Balochistan, reflecting a dire situation that the state can no longer afford to ignore. It is time for the state to realise that suppression is not a solution to ethnonationalist movements. The current uprising, characterised by its urban, middle class, and youth-led nature, and notably the inclusion of women, is a testament to a changing Balochistan. Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial tactics only deepen the schism and perpetuate a cycle of violence and mistrust. The protesters, united in their demand for an end to these injustices, represent a new political reality that cannot be ignored.

The state’s response to these protests must be one of engagement, not suppression. Acknowledging and addressing their grievances is the first step towards healing Balochistan’s wounds. It is imperative to engage with these young, educated voices and allow them to choose their representatives, as true democracy demands. The judiciary has a crucial role to play. The Supreme Court’s declaration of enforced disappearances as a “crime against humanity” is a significant acknowledgment, but it requires more than just words. Judicial courage in addressing these issues head-on is essential for meaningful change. The state must also take steps to ensure transparency and accountability within its institutions. The continuation of enforced disappearances, despite the creation of commissions and task forces, indicates a failure to address the root causes of the crisis. The state must now abandon its outdated tactics and adopt a more inclusive, humane approach to governance. It must act swiftly to build bridges of trust and understanding. The longer it delays, the greater the risk of permanent alienation.

Published in Dawn, january 1st, 2024

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