COMMENT: Exercising caution — Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur


The Baloch have been going missing since the early 1970s but the dirty war against them has intensified since 2005 and not a single perpetrator has even been named

Mir Muhammad Ali TalpurOn February 26, 2012, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman claiming self-defence; there were no witnesses. On July 13, 2013 the six-woman jury with three choices — guilty of second-degree murder, manslaughter, and not guilty — after deliberating for 16 hours found him not guilty. The only African-American woman on the jury later said that Zimmerman got away with murder. There have been mild protests, while on April 29, 1992 when the accused in Rodney King’s beating case were acquitted, Los Angeles riots followed. And by the time order was restored the riots had caused 53 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly one billion dollars in financial losses. Some things may have changed in the US but the justice system is still not colour blind; at the time of announcing the judgment, the blindfold on the eyes of the lady of justice slips just a little to ensure that it sees that the victim is black and the perpetrator white.

The brutal murder of Emmett Louis Till from Chicago, Illinois, the 14-year-old African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, after reportedly flirting with a white woman, though not widely known, is noted as a pivotal event motivating the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi, he reportedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a small grocery store owner. Several nights later, her husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother John William Milam took him from his great-uncle’s house, beat him, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head and then weighting his body with a 32 kg cotton gin fan, threw it in the Tallahatchie River. Discovered and retrieved three days later with face mutilated beyond recognition, he was positively identified by the ring that his mother had given him, engraved with his father’s initials LT (Louis Till).

Till’s body was returned to his mother Mamie Till in Chicago; she who had raised him mostly by herself, insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket because as she put it, “Let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this. And I needed somebody to help me tell what it was like.” Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket; images of his mutilated body were published in black magazines like Jet and newspapers.

Because then blacks and women were barred from serving jury duty, Bryant and Milam were tried before an all-white, all-male jury. In an act of extraordinary bravery, Moses Wright, Till’s uncle, risking retribution, took the stand and identified them as Till’s kidnappers and killers, yet both were acquitted. A few months later, protected by double jeopardy laws they, for $ 4,000, told Emmett Till’s kidnap and murder story to Look magazine. Black support and white sympathy in the northern US brought to bear on the condition of black civil rights in Mississippi as newspapers there criticised the crime but soon the whites in the South rallied support for the killers; Southern newspapers, particularly in Mississippi, wrote that the court system had done its job.

This warped dispensation of justice shows how the establishment’s narrative, because of its instruments of force and unchallenged influence, becomes the dominant narrative and decides how justice is meted out to those whom the state and influential elements target. Tainted justice is the norm wherever the state, through illegal methods, seeks to undermine the rights of people and the judiciary feels obligated to cover the backs of erring institutions and individuals violating human rights. It is this unfairly dispensed tainted justice that nurtures the culture of impunity and this is exactly what has been happening in Pakistan since 1947. Hundreds of Baloch Emmett Tills have been murdered for angering the state with demands for their rights while the Pakistani Bryants, Milams and Zimmermans have enjoyed complete immunity.

On July 23, 2013, Potohar Town Superintendent Police Haroon Joya informed the three-member Supreme Court (SC) bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, hearing the missing persons cases that following the court’s orders he got the arrest warrants of ISI Brigadier Mansoor Saeed Sheikh from Rawalpindi Civil Judge Irfan Naseem Tarar. The Chief Justice asked him to ‘exercise caution’ in this matter and observed that institutions should not be blamed for the acts of individuals. Needless to remind that the SC claims that it would not rest unless the missing persons were recovered and those responsible punished proved hollow, as it chose to support the erring institution over and above the demands of justice. Apparently when the so-called honour of institutions is at stake the rights of people become meaningless. As long as ‘exercising caution’ remains the keystone and watchword of justice where erring institutions’ violations of human rights are concerned, the Baloch and Sindhis will continue to be meted out the justice that was Trayvon Martin and Emmett Louis Till’s fate.

The establishment always ‘exercises caution’ in its dealings with the Haqqani group, the Quetta Shura, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Musala Diffa Tanzeem and outfits it uses as strategic assets for acquiring strategic depth in Afghanistan, against the nationalists or for keeping India on its toes. The establishment rides roughshod over the Baloch in an attempt to subdue them to exploit their resources. Apparently since Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) came up with its July 6 Sindh’s independence demand, the ‘dirty war’ against Sindhi nationalists has intensified; two workers of JSMM, brothers Ali and Zafar Noonari, have gone missing.

The Baloch have been going missing since the early 1970s but the dirty war against them has intensified since 2005 and not a single perpetrator has even been named. The systematic dirty war being conducted by the army, the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies has perturbed neither the judiciary nor the public at large. Never has any institution here asked the perpetrators to ‘exercise caution’ or ventured to question their atrocities. Probably when there is so much at stake for the establishment and rulers in the form of economic gain from resources, people become expendable, the Baloch being deemed expendable in this case. All that the judiciary and the media have done so far is to plod along proving that the need of maintaining the status quo far outweighs their need for questioning atrocities, first against Bengalis and now the Baloch. A commission on missing persons exists and a task force too is in the offing but then Pakistan is the notorious Bermuda Triangle for the same.

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

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