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Karachi: “Even God is not on our side,” says Seema Baloch. “Not a single person in the state cares about our grief.”
Seema, whose brother has been abducted, participated in a protest on Eid, May 3, at the Karachi press club. Choking back tears, she asked, “What kind of Eid is this? We have forgotten how to celebrate.”
Families of missing Baloch persons held protests in different Pakistani cities on Eid, to remind the state that they want to know their kins’ whereabouts.
A number of Baloch women, children and men participated in the protests. In Karachi, the protest came soon after the suicide bomb attack by Shari Baloch at the University of Karachi, which killed three Chinese nationals.
The organisation Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) claims that more than 53,000 Baloch people have been abducted thus far and that they are still continuing. The Pakistani government, however, has claimed fewer people are missing.
This is not a new issue – in fact, far from it. Yet, despite all promises made by the government, these abductions continue.
Wahab Baloch, deputy organiser of the Baloch Yekjehti Committee, said that if the government keeps ignoring the grief of Baloch people, “more like Shari Baloch will choose to sacrifice their lives rather than spending their whole lives asking after their loved ones”.
Baloch students were being kidnapped even before the blast; their abduction has been frequently reported.
Baloch students leave their homes in the region to study in other parts of Pakistan, but the state hasn’t supported them in this task. As a result, Baloch students are safe neither inside nor outside the region.
The Pakistani government seems to be helpless but the opposition parties have been vocal.
A student activist named Sammi Deen Baloch has been running a campaign for the government to rescue missing persons, one of whom is her father, who has been missing for more than a decade. She has been critical of political parties in the region and has said that the real power-centre is in the military.
Farhatullah Babar, Pakistan People’s Party secretary-general and a former senator, believes the present government won’t be able to address the issue – not because it doesn’t want to do it but because it won’t be allowed to.
In fact, the country’s new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif recently visited Balochistan but spoke in apologetic tones on the issue. He said he would “speak for the missing persons” along with the affected victims and of “raising the issue with the powerful quarters”.
His remarks were reminiscent of those of his predecessors, who seemed to prefer diplomacy with an unnamed actor over action.
Sammi Deen has been looking for her father since 2009, but she has only been told to not return to the missing persons commission.
She is growing tired of repeating the circumstances of her father’s disappearance for a decade. “No one can [relate to] our anguish when we tell our story,” Sammi Deen said. “The same questions are being asked, and in return, we see the institutes’ cold behaviour.”
When there is news of a corpse having been found, Sammi Deen rushes to inquire whether it’s that of her father. “Can you imagine the pain of finding your father among dead bodies?” she asks. “Can the can do us a favour and tell us whether we are orphans?”
Mahzaib Baloch, a young woman, joined the protest at the Karachi press club at 8 am on Eid. Through tears she said she has had to be at a protest instead of in parks and playgrounds like others of her age, because she was looking for her brother.
At the same protest, a mother who has been searching for her soon fell unconscious. As her compatriots gathered around her to help, others raised their voices louder: “mara mari band kro – uthao phinko policy band kro” (‘stop the killings, end the policy to pick up and throw away dead bodies’).
“Where are human rights organisations? Where are the political parties? Why are they not here?” one of the women present, Sheema Kermani, a classical dancer, activist and founder of Tehrik-e-Niswan, asked. “They should have been here.”
Sammi Deen also criticised Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of former PM Nawaz Sharif: “When your father was in jail, you had tweeted that you would not celebrate Eid. We don’t know whether they are alive, and on Eid day we are protesting.”
The people of Balochistan have also criticised the China-Pakistan economic corridor, a slew of billion-dollar infrastructure projects that straddle this and other regions.
Ameena Baloch, one of the women present, accused the state’s need for Balochistan being restricted to the region’s minerals and resources and not the Baloch people itself. “Agencies of the state purchase [their] vehicles by selling the resources of Balochistan and the state’s forces use [the same vehicles] to abduct” people.
Nargis says she was pregnant when her husband Fayaz was taken away on August 30, 2021 from their home in Quetta by officials of government agencies, who promised to return him soon. Nargis hasn’t heard from Fayaz since, nor has their nine-month-old son.
She denies Fayaz was involved in any political activity and insists that he kept to himself.
A lot of her ire was also directed at human rights organisation: according to her, none of them have taken any interest in her case, including with filing a complaint or helping her secure a lawyer.
“Even the police filed a first information report on the condition of not mentioning the names of agencies who abducted her husband,” a fellow protestor said.
She has received some help, however, from the VBMP group.
Babar, the former senator, says however that human rights organisations have been active and of help around the country but also that also needs to be done to help the relatives of those whose kin have disappeared.
“In a society where all state organs, which have constitutional powers and authority, have failed, it wouldn’t be fair to [say] human rights bodies have not done enough.”
In 2014, Mama Qadeer Baloch marched against the forced disappearances in the region along with other Baloch women and men from Balochistan to Islamabad, a distance of more than 2,000 km. His son Jaleel Reki Baloch was abducted and murdered in 2012.
According to him, political parties, their politicians as well as human rights organisations have all various extents been content to follow the state’s policies. “Had they been honest to Baloch, [the people] would not have been taken.”
“Are international organisations really unaware of how Balochis have been abducted and later killed?” Sammi Deen asks. “They are well aware” but, she added, they’re content to ignore.