Opening Speech by President, BHRC (Canada) at the Memorial Reference for Martyred Prof. Saba Dashtyari in Toronto, Canada
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening. On behalf of the Baloch Human Rights Council (Canada), I welcome you all today at this memorial reference for Prof. Saba Dashtyari, murdered in cold-blood by the Pakistani military intelligence agencies. He was hit with multiple shots fired at close range by automatic weapons on June 1, 2011 in Quetta, Balochistan.
This state sponsored gruesome assassination took place in full view of public on the streets of Quetta. One of the killers, after completing the given assignment, walked calmly to the fallen scholar who was breathing his last breath and shot him in the head in execution style. The assassins then took off on a motor bike and disappeared forever into the crowd without a trace. Immediately, following his murder, Prof. Dashtyari’s office at the Balochistan University was sealed by the authorities for a so-called inquiry into his death, and his belongings including his computer, books, writings, and manuscripts were taken into custody by the government. A few days later, an anonymous call was received at the Quetta Press Club, claiming responsibility for the murder of Prof. Dashtyari. The caller also claimed that the assassination was carried out by ‘Ansar-ul-Islam’ to stop the learned scholar from his “anti-Islamic” activities. The irony is that Saba Dashtyari was a professor of Islamic Studies at the Balochistan University for many years and Islamic history was his speciality. Although, we are well aware that all the target killings of Baloch nationalists is being orchestrated by the Pakistani military and its spy agencies, nevertheless, its interesting to note how these agencies use Islamic extremists or pseudo outfits by these names to create death squads to counter the Baloch movement.
Prof. Saba Dashtyari was born in the slums of Lyari, Karachi in 1953 and belonged to a downtrodden family that gave him an early social awareness of poverty, injustice, and marginalization of his Baloch cultural heritage. The impact of the working class neighbourhood where he was brought up and the discriminatory policies of Pakistani state toward Baloch nation moulded his consciousness that later became his political philosophy. He strongly believed that the predatory policies of the Pakistani state is interested only in the exploitation of Balochistan’s rich natural resources and not in the development of the inhabitants of the land. He devised an ingenious method of countering the state policies by developing a counter culture based on Balochi language, culture, history, and literature. He said, “Our collective history as a people is our identity and this should be the foundation of our political movement aiming for an end to the colonial setup in Balochistan and national emancipation from the states of Iran and Pakistan.”
Armed only with his books, pen, and speeches; Prof. Dashtyari became a threat not only to the rulers in Islamabad but in actuality to the very idea and existence of Pakistan. His cultural revolution started taking roots in the universities and colleges of Balochistan – among students; teachers; doctors; lawyers; and activists, challenging the very concept of Pakistan Ideology over which rested the pillars of the state, founded in 1947. His political philosophy of national liberation had a deeper agenda – social justice and emancipation of Baloch toiling masses from all forms subordination and exploitation, including the British imposed Sardari System. The scope of his philosophy reached out to the common Baloch, beyond tribal and territorial loyalties, boundaries, and biases. His vision was that of true nationalism that had the capacity to march forward into the future, respecting all the modern norms of democracy and enlightenment.
It takes more than just a good thought and intent to become an outspoken advocate of freedom and social justice in today’s Balochistan where according to the international human rights groups, the situation is escalating out of control and presents the picture of worst atrocities committed by the sate military and paramilitary forces against innocent civilians. Balochistan’s number of disappeared persons now equals that of Chile, Argentina, and Guatemala in the 1970s – a staggering figure of 13,000 has been stated by the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a Balochistan-based human rights group that has a list of its own disappeared members and activists. In addition, the repressive state policy of killing and dumping the disappeared persons has resulted in recovery of more than 200 mutilated bodies of Baloch students, journalists, activists, teachers, doctors, and lawyers across Balochistan from fields and ditches bearing marks of extreme torture. Recently, as of July 7th, six brutally tortured and bullet-riddled bodies of Baloch youth have been found from various locations in Balochistan, including places such as Kech, Khuzdar, Gwadar, and Dera Bugti.
The UK-based Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s report on Balochistan, published in June 2011, states that at least 140 mutilated bodies of people had been found in the past year. Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson said, “A very dangerous trend has emerged that those who disappeared were now found dead on roadsides. The bodies have torture marks….there was evidence to substantiate families’ claims that victims were kidnapped by security forces or had been killed in custody.” Zohra Yusuf also concluded that the number of disappeared and killed in custody could be much higher because the commission reported only those cases, which it could verify. I would like to add that the HRCP fact-finding mission had limited access to civilians trapped in remote areas of conflict where journalists and human rights officers are prohibited to enter by the Pakistani military and paramilitary forces.
In conclusion, these were the appalling conditions resulting from the ongoing military operation in Balochistan that forced Prof. Saba Dashtyari to step out of his Reference library and join the rallying masses on the streets. The Reference library that he had founded consists of more than 150, 000 books, research articles, and rare documents on Baloch history, language, and literature. His life was a treasure to his people, and his death has become a conscious movement that will lead the nation to freedom from bondage and slavery.
President, BHRC (Canada)