By Qurat ul ain Siddiqui – DAWN.COM
‘It was a white car. My face was covered with a black mask so I could not see and my hands had been tied… they began beating me up instantly,’ recalls Adnan Baloch, who was picked up in Quetta on April 18, 2009, while on his way back home from his college. He claims that eventually the car stopped outside a ‘torture cell’ and he ‘was treated with electric shocks all day long’ and ‘which ended up paralysing both his legs’.According to him, he was released in Mastung a day later and was taken to a hospital for treatment. ‘The police was there at the hospital…and even before I could begin talking about registering an FIR, I was told that it would not be registered,’ he adds.Although Adnan has been released after the ‘abduction and subsequent physical torture, for being politically active and for being the nephew of currently missing Baloch Republican Party’s central leader Chakar Qambrani,’ there are several in Balochistan who continue to remain missing.
On March 26, 2009, Shahzeb Baloch, president of the Baloch Students Organisation – Azad’s Quetta zone was reported missing. He continues to remain missing.
‘We went to the City Police Station, Quetta, to register an FIR, but were flatly refused and while we have even entered a petition in the High Court in Quetta, no one in the government is willing to help us ‘officially,’’ says Shahzeb’s elder brother Aurangzeb Baloch.
However, on being contacted, the Station House Officer (SHO) at the City Police Station Quetta, Hasib Ghafoor, while admitting that Shahzeb was abducted, denied that anyone from his family contacted the police for registering an FIR.
When asked if any complaints had been refused registration, Ghafoor said: ‘Why would we refuse to register an FIR, if somebody comes we will register it, of course, but there are no missing persons in our area’.
Another Station House Officer at a police station in Quetta, who requested anonymity, said: ‘I cannot tell you much. Sometimes it is really difficult when we cannot register an FIR and have to turn away the complainant. We cannot help it, or fight it. We have to follow orders.’
The administrative muddle only adds to the misery of the missing and their families.
‘It is difficult to recall how many people we have approached and how many times. We have approached Governor Magsi, Chief Minister Raisani and even Interior Minister Rehman Malik. All of them gave us assurances but the only news we have of Shahzeb, is from his friend Raziq Hemaldini, who went missing three months ago and was released some time back,’ Aurganzeb, and Zia, another brother of Shahzeb, say.
‘Raziq has seen Shahzeb in the cell where he was kept but is too scared to go public about it,’ Zia says.
Zakir Majid Baloch, BSO – Azad’s Senior Vice President, confirmed Aurganzeb’s account. However, ‘it is not only Shahzaib who is missing among BSO-Azad’s members…Iqbal Baloch was picked up on March 14, 2007, and there is no news as to whether he is alive or dead,’ Zakir says, adding that ‘another BSO-Azad member from Khuzdar, Mushtaq Baloch, disappeared one month ago and nothing has been heard on him yet.’
Zakir, who himself was picked up on July 23, 2007, and went missing for nearly seven months, blames ‘the establishment’ for ‘the ever-increasing number of Baloch political prisoners and the killings of Baloch activists.’
‘Several of our activists have been killed by the Frontier Corps (FC), the army and by Quetta police,’ he alleges.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s provincial coordinator in Balochistan, Fareed Ahmed, while saying that ‘hundreds appear to have been victims of enforced disappearances in the region,’ said the HRCP’s list of such cases indicates a figure of 150.
‘This is mostly because we at the HRCP include names to the list once the victim’s family approaches us,’ Ahmed said.
‘Once we have a reporting family, we try to approach the High Court to get the FIR registered, or we forward the case to Asma Jehangir in Lahore. We are also currently approaching the Supreme Court for the reopening of the missing persons’ cases.’
The problem of the province’s disappeared became more complex when Munir Mengal, a businessman who wanted to set up a Balochi language channel from Dubai, reportedly went missing. He claims that he was ‘detained and tortured by the Military Intelligence for 16 months’. After his release, he reported seeing Baloch school teacher Zarina Marri in an ‘interrogation cell’ who remains among a long list of the missing. He alleges that ‘she was being tortured and abused and was kept as a sex slave to extract confessions from male political prisoners’.
‘During my time in the secret prison in Malir Cantonment I also saw Shahnawaz Bugti, a very old man who cannot even walk without support and a nine-year-old Shahnawaz Marri, of Hub Chowki, who used to deliver milk at Akhtar Mengal’s house,’ Munir Mengal says.
He also claims to have met the late Ghulam Mohammad Baloch and Sher Mohammad Baloch in the ‘same secret prison.’
What is puzzling is that if all of this has any credence, then the ‘trend’ of enforced disappearances, despite the formation of an elected, civilian government in the country, does not seem to have stopped. Shafiq Ahmed Khan, a member of the Balochistan provincial assembly and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), claims that according to a list that has been compiled using various sources, some 950-1000 Baloch continue to remain missing.
‘We have spoken to the Prime Minister and the President on this issue and in the next session of the Balochistan Assembly, we intend to move a resolution demanding the recovery of the missing. We hope that the issues will also be taken up by the National Assembly afterwards,’ the MPA said, conceding that ‘the military operation in Balochistan is still going on.’
The subject of Balochistan’s missing received a lot of international attention during the abduction of UNHCR official John Solecki, when the abductors demanded the recovery of all existing Baloch political prisoners.
Baloch leader Hyrbyair Marri who was the key mediator in securing Solecki’s release says: ‘During that time UN officials gave me a list of some 1100 missing persons. The list was provided to them by high ranking officials in the Pakistan government.’
What is particularly odd is that Ghulam Baloch, a member of the committee of Baloch leaders who were negotiating Solecki’s release, was picked up a day before the UNHCR official was released. On April 9, 2009, Ghulam’s body was found near Turbat along with the bodies of two other Baloch activists. These killings led to further unrest in Balochistan that also had among its causes the conundrum of the missing.
‘There will never be a complete list as people are being picked up on a daily basis,’ says Hyrbyair.
The story of the missing in Balochistan runs parallel to the story of Pakistan government’s war against the Taliban militants. While both the Pakistan government and the US administration tried their best to negotiate with the Taliban, before it all broke down, it remains hard to come to grips with the fact that they did not make any serious efforts in bringing the alienated Baloch to political mainstream, which can not be achieved without tracing the missing Baloch and bringing them to the judicial process, if there are any cases against them.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org