Abdul Wahid Baloch’s teenage daughter waits on the roof of their house every night for her father to return.
Maikan mostly stays silent. The 13-year-old girl often refuses to eat; neither does she want to go to school. She wakes up in the night, goes to the roof of her house and sits there all by herself, says her elder sister Hani.
A few months ago, Maikan was as chirpy and giggly as most girls in her age group. She changed after her father, Abdul Wahid Baloch, went missing on July 26, 2016.
Wahid is a resident of Lyari, a thickly populated Karachi neighbourhood that is almost always in the news for its never-ending gang wars. It is also a hotbed of politics. The history of organised political activism here goes as far back as the 1960s.
Wahid, 54, has been an active participant in the civic life of his neighbourhood. Many Lyari residents remember him as Comrade Wahid who, according to them, eagerly helped all and sundry. Working as a telephone operator at the Civil Hospital Karachi, he would often be seen assisting patients coming from not just his own neighbourhood but also from rural parts of Sindh and Balochistan.
An avid collector of books, Wahid was active in promoting Baloch culture and the literature written in his native Balochi language, his friends say. He would help new Baloch writers publish their works. A decade back, he also worked as the deputy editor of a Balochi literary magazine, Labzank.
His friends and relatives say he enthusiastically joined protest demonstrations and rallies by any group of people not happy with the government – teachers, fishermen and public-sector workers. For years, Wahid had been associated with the Baloch National Movement (BNM), a separatist political organisation, and was a regular presence at marches, rallies and hunger strikes in Karachi over the issue of Baloch missing persons.
When BNM split into two factions after the murder of its president Ghulam Muhammad in 2009, Wahid stopped attending its activities. He had friends in both factions and did not want to take sides, people close to him say.
Wahid’s affiliation with BNM was not secret and Hani says he never got into trouble with intelligence agencies. “My father never got any threat from [intelligence] agencies or anyone else [over his political affiliation]. Otherwise, he would have informed us.” Even when he walked to his office from home during frequent breakdowns of law and order in Lyari, he never noticed anyone following him, she says.
Wahid set out on a trip to some places outside Karachi on July 22, 2016. He took his friend and Balochi language poet Sabir Naguman and a few others with him. The reason for the trip to such places as Kotri, Digri, Khipro and Umerkot, according to Naguman, was to “condole with families of two friends” and “congratulate a female family friend on her wedding”.
They were on their way back to Karachi in a passenger van on the noon of July 26 when some men ordered the vehicle to stop near a toll plaza on one of the main entrances to the city. The passengers thought it was a routine police checking. It turned out to be anything but.
Two men – one clad in white shalwar kameez and the other in a grey dress – got into the van and glanced at all the passengers, says Naguman, who was sitting in the first row of seats along with Wahid. The two were told to produce their national identity cards. The man in white clothes inspected their cards while at the same time looking at his cell phone as if matching their personal information with something in his device, Naguman adds. After careful inspection, he handed Naguman’s card back but told Wahid to get off the van. The two men took him into a big blue jeep parked nearby. Nobody in his family and among his friends knows who took him away and to where.
Wahid has been missing since.
There is some speculation that he attended a meeting by a banned Sindhi nationalist organisation – Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) – in Umerkot on July 24, 2016, where he spoke vehemently against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He is also said to have advocated an alliance between Sindhi and Baloch nationalists. That became the reason why he was picked up by intelligence agencies, says a friend of Wahid. “A large number of JSMM activists were also picked up by the agencies in the last week of July,” he claims on condition of anonymity.
No other relevant people confirm this. Naguman says Wahid neither attended a political meeting nor delivered any speech. He, however, is not sure if any individuals from JSMM met Wahid during their stay in Umerkot. Many people met the two during their trip and some of them were unknown to Naguman. There could be political or nationalist activists among them but he has no “idea which party or group they belonged to”.
Sajjad Shar, JSMM’s general secretary, also denies that his party held a meeting on July 24, 2016, where Wahid spoke. In a phone conversation from an undisclosed location, he, however, claims the law enforcement agencies have carried out search operations in Umerkot, Naushahro Feroze, Khairpur, Ghotki, Badin, Kashmore, Matiari and Dadu districts and have arrested more than 65 nationalist activists since July 28, 2016.
Hani, 20, is a B.Sc final year student. When she came to know that her father had gone missing, she went to a police station in Gadap neighbourhood where the incident had taken place. Accompanied by her relatives, she met the deputy superintendent police (DSP) and station house officer (SHO) of the area. They told her to return after three days if she wanted to register a First Information Report (FIR). “When we went to the police station again, the SHO refused to lodge the FIR,” says Hani.
She then approached the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) which wrote letters to the Director General Sindh Rangers, the Inspector General Police (IGP) Sindh Police, to the Gadap police station and the secretary of Sindh health department to take notice and investigate the case. The commission also formed a fact-finding committee to probe what had happened to Wahid.
The committee went to the place where the incident had occurred. Members asked the police and rangers’ personnel posted there if they knew anything about Wahid’s disappearance. “They said they would know if anything like that had happened,” says Abdul Hai, an HRCP field officer. The committee also went to see the local SHO who showed ignorance regarding the incident. He also refused to register the FIR once again, Hai says.
Frustrated by the attitude of the police, Hani filed a habeas corpus petition at the Sindh high court for the recovery of her father. Respondents in the case include the federal government, the provincial government, the IGP Sindh Police and SHO Gadap and the Sindh Rangers.
The bench hearing the case comprises Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto and Justice Muhammad Karim Khan Agha. They are hearing 80 similar cases of people having gone missing from different parts of Sindh.
The first hearing of Hani’s petition took place on August 15, 2016. When the court asked the SHO about the case, he claimed no one from Wahid’s family had contacted him or lodged any report. At a subsequent hearing later in September, the Sindh Rangers also denied having detained or arrested him.
On September 26, 2016, Hani’s petition was up for hearing again. The courtroom was full of people – petitioners, lawyers, government officials. The case roster was brimming – her petition was slotted at No 68.
When finally her turn came, a court official put the case files in front of the judges and announced the case number as well as the names of the petitioner and the respondents. Hani’s lawyer walked to a rostrum to the right of the judges and began telling them how his client had approached the SHO for the registration of the FIR but to no avail. The judges looked at a policeman, a sub-inspector representing the SHO in the court. He came forward and claimed the petitioner had never approached the SHO.
“SHO Gadap shall be in attendance [at the next hearing] along with detailed comments and progress report regarding the missing person,” said Justice Phulpoto. He also ordered the SHO to act strictly in accordance with the law regarding the registration of the FIR. The whole proceeding was over in about five minutes. The hearing was first adjourned till October 13, 2016, and then till November 3, 2016.
To follow up on the court’s orders, a couple of days later, Hani – accompanied by some members of the HRCP and representatives of other civil society organisations – went to the police station in Gadap. The police finally registered an FIR against unidentified staffers of some unspecified secret agency for the abduction of her father.
Wahid’s ailing mother noticed his absence soon after his disappearance and started asking about him. Hani decided to lie to her grandmother saying the police had booked Wahid in a false case and that he would be released soon. “I often make people pretend to be police officers. They call my grandmother and tell her that her son is detained at a police station,” says Hani. “She will not be able to bear the shock if she comes to know about her son’s disappearance.”
Wahid’s old mother may one day find out the truth but coping with that would still be easier than coming to terms with some other fallout of his absence. For one, his family’s financial condition is dire. His July salary from the hospital was transferred to his account but, Hani says that they “are unable to draw it without his signatures”.
Her maternal uncle is helping them out but he has limited resources. No one in her family is sure how long that support will last.
This article was originally published in the Herald’s November 2016 issue.