Baloch families’ quest for justice brings them to Karachi

After an arduous 27-day journey, families of 25 Baloch men vow to continue protesting until their beloved sons and brothers return


KARACHI: The rugged mountainous terrain of Sindh and Balochistan could not stop them; neither did the countless threats to their caravan and three gun attacks.

The 25 families of missing Baloch men reached Karachi on Friday – covering 780 kilometres of an inhospitable landscape on foot.

They spent nights on roadsides and days striding forward: the journey, it seems, only hardened their commitment to remain steadfast in their cause.

The families have pitched their tents in Karachi. Their protest, they say, is far from over. It will continue peacefully “until their beloved sons and brothers return”.

They reached the Karachi Press Club, exhausted but filled to the brim with macabre tales about the country’s intelligence agencies and offering a glimpse of their commitment to continuing their resistance against the repression.

“To tell you the truth, no one really talks about Pakistan in there [Balochistan] anymore” said Qadeer Baloch, the chairman of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons who led the long march, while talking to reporters outside the press club.

“Neither are the flags of Pakistan fluttering in Balochistan, nor the national anthem sung.”

Qadeer said his organisation had not held the long march to appeal to the Pakistani government to release the missing Baloch men.

“We won’t beg to the Pakistani government anymore. We want the UN and other international organisations to hear our plea,” he said.

Men, women and children as young as 11 years old began the long march from the Quetta Press Club on October 27 to protest against the alleged abduction and killing of Baloch men by the armed forces and intelligence agencies.

The arduous journey, Qadeer claimed, was peppered with both threats and inducements from the spy agencies and the Balochistan government, which wanted the protesters to call off the long march.

“I have been threatened as well as offered blank cheques. Back in Balochistan, my comrades have been assaulted by the army to pressure us into quitting. But we did not.”

He further claimed that more than 18,000 Baloch men have been abducted by the security agencies since the death of Akbar Bugti. “Of them, 1,500 were killed in targeted attacks. Many were professors and educated Baloch.”

However, independent human rights groups put the number between 800 and 1,000. “We can verify that at least 800 men have gone missing since the death of Akbar Bugti,” said Asad Iqbal Butt, the Sindh representative of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Qadeer announced that The Voice for the Missing Persons of Baluchistan will soon hold a press conference to give further details of the families’ journey.

Many human rights activists, members of Sindhi nationalist parties and journalists welcomed the protesters who, after a detour from Lyari’s Art Chowk, reached the press club at around five in the evening.

The families were joined by their supporters as they entered Karachi. From Malir, Hub and Lyari, dozens of people including men with their faces covered escorted the protesters to their destination.

Farzana Baloch, whose brother Zakir Majeed was allegedly whisked away by the agencies three years ago, thanked those who had arrived to receive the caravan.

“We do not belong to any political party. Our only demand is the release of the missing persons who are living in the torture cells of our agencies,” she said while addressing the crowd.

The human rights campaigners there said the government should find ways to start a dialogue process with the Baloch people.

“The state is pushing them [the Baloch people] to the wall. Suppressing people is not the solution,” remarked Asad Iqbal Butt.

“If the government is ready to talk to the Taliban, who outright reject our constitution, then why not the Baloch?” he asked.

“The government has to deal with these people through dialogue, or else we have the case of Bangladesh in front of us.”

by Ammar Shahbazi

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