COMMENT : Baloch missing persons: a soul-rending saga — II — Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur


The Pakistani state is unforgiving and brutal in its treatment of the Baloch and it continues to deny responsibility by presenting flimsy excuses

Mir Mohammad Ali TalpurThe pain of a missing son, brother, or a friend remains deeply etched on a person’s psyche. It is an inerasable pain, which neither time nor consolations diminish. A fortnight ago, I had gone to pay my respects to my comrade ‘Johnny’ Duleep Dass’s 91-year-old mother. Her first words were, “How’s my Johnny?” She still believes he is alive though it was in 1975 that he along with Sher Ali Marri was picked up by army intelligence at Belpat. She and her husband, Air Commodore (Retd) Balwant Dass, who passed away some years ago, tried to get some news about him but all efforts were in vain. Although Mrs Dass has suffered strokes but the memory and the pain of her disappeared son refuses to go away.

I have lost 16 of my former students; they are Sobdar, Wahid Bakhsh, Shah Mir and Ahmad Murghiani, Zaman Khan and Ahmed Ali Chalgari, Arzu, Sherbat, Murad, and Zaman Sherani, Mohammad Khan and Mohammad Nabi Pirdadani, Faiz Mohammad, Nasir and Wazir Khan Mazarani, Gulzar Taingiani and Ghulam Qadir Pirukani. Some including Dr Akbar Pirdadani are missing. My bonds with them are deep; many often said to me, “Ustad, ta mae na rawa-e-pith astay” (Teacher, you are like a father to us). Among Marris, a ‘na rawa-e-pith’ means a non-natural father but a father nonetheless. Many said, “Ustad, ma tae na rawa-e-bach astoon,” meaning your non-natural sons but sons nonetheless.

Allah Baksh Bangulzai’s son Hafiz Saeed Rehman has been missing for more than 10 years. During his search for his son who left home on a bicycle that day, he has visited mortuaries, seen an exhumed body, got different versions regarding his son’s disappearance, which include his being in jail to have died in a bomb blast. Deviousness dominates the official versions that keep changing. A fortnight after his son’s disappearance an MI person had come and asked him if his son had any connection with jihadi outfits. He replied in the negative. At one time, his name appeared as being in jail on the Balochistan High Court lists but that too proved wrong. A religious-minded Baloch is as much in danger as is a secular Baloch.

Saman Baloch is a student of M.Sc. Chemistry in Balochistan University; her father, Dr Deen Mohammed, a medical officer in the government hospital in Arnaj, Khuzdar, was picked up by the intelligence agencies on June 28, 2009, after breaking the door of his hospital residence. He was a member of the central committee of the Baloch National Movement (BNM). His brother was questioned about his political activities. Saman is in a quandary, as she always must lie because she does not want her teachers to know that when she is not in class, she is either at a protest camp, at a court hearing, or addressing a press conference in the hope that some journalist will write about her father. She feels bad about lying. Saman worries about her father’s fate and asks why they keep them years in custody and then kill them. She says, “If they want to hang my father, they should bring him to the court, put him on trial and hang him in front of us. We’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing that he is no more. But if they keep him alive for three years, four years, if they torture him every day and kill him and dump his body, what is the point of that?” She adds, “Seeing these dead bodies, hearing about them, waiting for more to turn up, we ourselves have turned into the walking dead, we feel like those dumped bodies.”

Saman has spent the last three years of her life in courts and protest camps, trying to convince the media to keep her father’s name alive in the news. She says, “I go to the court hearings but my heart is not in it; I know that I am not likely to get justice from these courts.” Her younger brother has had to leave school to work on the family lands to sustain the family.

Nasurullah Bungalzai, a former student of the Quetta Degree College, presently chairperson of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), is in quest of his missing uncle, Ali Asghar Bangulzai, who ran a tailoring shop and was a political activist, a member of Khair Baksh Marri’s political party, Haq Tawar. He was picked up in 2000 but released after 14 days. During that period, Asghar was hung upside down in a well and asked to bear witness against Khair Bakhsh or the rope would be cut, but he refused. Nasrullah’s relentless campaign and his permanent protest camp outside the Quetta Press Club were becoming a bit of an embarrassment for the army establishment, so a Colonel Zafar of MI invited him for a meeting and asked him, “You have been meeting the governor?” He said he had at least seven times. The Colonel continued, “And you have been telling him to summon the local ISI commander to the Governor’s House?” He answered affirmatively. The Colonel said, “He can’t even summon my junior most captain here. He knows that and you should too.” Nasrullah, desperate to get a straight answer said, “Maybe you killed him and buried him somewhere inaccessible. Maybe you can’t take me to his grave,” and, “If that’s the case, then bring out the Quran, put your hand on it and tell me the truth. And I’ll leave you alone.” Colonel Zafar was not impressed by Nasrullah’s emotional appeals and said, “It’s no use. We are a machine. We are an emotionless machine.”

The second time Asghar Bangulzai was with his friend Iqbal when he was apprehended. Iqbal was brutally tortured but released after 24 days. In 2003, Nasrullah’s family managed to get a hearing with the Quetta Corps Commander, who for a change happened to be a Baloch, Abdul Qadir Zehri, and later was the governor too. But this proved fruitless. They sought the help of Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, the central leader of the JUI-F, and met Brigadier Siddique, the head of the ISI in Quetta. He said they had him in custody, and over a year they met him often but that too bore no fruit. They met General Zaki in Islamabad; help was promised but none came. Having lost hope in them, Nasrullah met Governor Owais Ghani again but was stunned when Ghani said, “If you continue your protests, I can’t guarantee your safety.” Nasrullah bitterly told him, “I am a common citizen. You are the governor. We are sitting in your Governor’s House and you are threatening me about my safety.” All wanted him to remove the protest camp and end their campaign, as it was giving them and the country ‘a bad name’. A high official from the interior ministry flew down to Quetta and met him. “He promised us that if we remove the protest camp, he’ll make sure that Ali Asghar would be released within two weeks.” Nasrullah consulted other families and the protest camp was temporarily closed down. Months passed, nothing happened, as they had been lied to. Ironically, it took nine years for even an FIR to be registered, and the Supreme Court and the government do not tire of praising their efforts for the Baloch.

When Ali Asghar disappeared, his oldest son was 12 and the youngest one only six months old. The oldest son got married a few years ago. After spending 11 years in search of his uncle, Nasrullah is frank about his own state of mind. “The whole family has psychological problems. I think we are all mentally sick.” In his absence, Ali Asghar has become a grandfather. His grandson also calls him chacha (paternal uncle) because Nasrullah refers to him as chacha. Disappearances are from across the entire spectrum of Baloch society and include intellectuals like Professor Saba Dashtyari; journalists like Lala Hameed Baloch and Ilyas Nazar; doctors like Dr Deen Mohammad and Akbar Marri; lawyers like Zaman Khan Marri and Ali Sher Kurd, and activists like Zakir Majeed and Sangat Sana. The Pakistani state is unforgiving and brutal in its treatment of the Baloch and it continues to deny responsibility by presenting flimsy excuses like people donning the Frontier Corps personnel’s uniforms to commit crimes. Such excuses simply expose its inability to run a state. The saga of the missing persons seemingly is set to continue and intensify as the Baloch, fed up with atrocities and denial of rights, are becoming more actively and openly defiant of the state and demanding freedom.

(Continued)

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

Courtesy: Daily Times

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