KARACHI, Dec 10: In a charged atmosphere at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday activists and writers demanded answers to questions about disappearances in Balochistan.
Speaking at a seminar organised by the Voice of Missing Baloch Missing Persons, many advised the state to refrain from repeating the mistakes made in 1971; others spoke about what it meant to live as a family member of a ‘missing person’.
The vice president of the advocacy group, Qadeer Baloch, said that he would continue his journey to Islamabad on foot. Just weeks ago a few families, accompanied by well-wishers and sympathisers, walked all the way from Quetta to Karachi to speak about their missing loved ones. The march ended on Nov 22 outside the KPC. Since then the families daily sit at a protest camp with pictures of their loved ones who have gone missing.
One of the first speakers at the event, Qadeer Baloch said: “If it were not for the courage shown by the women with me, I could have given up. But I won’t. I’ll keep on walking even if I get killed.”
The daughter of Deen Mohammad, an assistant professor at the Balochistan Medical Centre, who was picked up at Ornach, was also at the event. Speaking about her father’s disappearance, Sammi Baloch said: “My grandmother kept waiting for my father till her last breath. She kept asking to see her son. She eventually died without having her last wish fulfilled.”
A 10-year-old boy, Ali Haider, was next in line. Appearing nervous, he said his father was picked up in July 2010. “I don’t know how to speak in front of all of you, who are way older and wiser than me. My only request is to see my father again,” he said.
In response to the boy’s statement, a lawyer and activist with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asad Iqbal Butt, said: “We might be older but we are surely not wise, as we don’t learn from our mistakes.” He added that the state would have to decide whether they wanted to continue the “politics of force and violence”.
Farzana Majeed, the VBMP general secretary whose brother Zakir Majeed has also been missing, said: “I have lost my health but not my courage. The blisters on my feet have not healed but some people have already forgotten us. So we decided to arrange this follow-up seminar. We are not tired. We have not given up,” she said to an audience which gave her a standing ovation. Some women wiped off their tears.
The state, Farzana added, is violating the Vienna Convention, which protects against torture and enforced disappearances.
Writer Mohammad Hanif gave an example of the case of an abducted journalist of Daily Tawar from Lyari, Abdul Razzaq Baloch. Missing for four months, his body was found dumped in Karachi’s Surjani Town. “His body was so mutilated that it took his family a day to finally recognise him,” said Hanif. “But what hurt the most was that not even a single journalist took a stand against his killing.”
He said he had an aversion to the term ‘missing’. He said that usually children went missing after forgetting their way back home. “In this case, someone knows where these missing men are. And we pay for their salaries,” he said to a packed lawn at the KPC, filled with activists from rights groups and a large number of people from various neighborhoods of Karachi.
He said many people presumed that the speakers were there to vent their anger. “No, we are not. We are here to plead for our children’s lives,” he added.
He said the amount of violence taking place in Pakistan was worse than in Palestine, as there the state had maintained records of those missing.
He also shared his thoughts on the recent hearing on missing persons held by the chief justice of Pakistan. “By the end of every hearing, he (CJ) asked the authorities ‘izzat rakh laina.’ I believe that only a person who doesn’t have respect will ask for it.”
Columnist Nasir Kareem Baloch said: “Balochistan was never historically aligned with Pakistan. We just need our independent status back.”
Ajiz Jamali also shared his experience of visiting Mashkay and Awaran after the earthquake. “We are not able to show the reality of what happens in the province. We were intimidated by the Frontier Corps and what not. But the state of the media in this country is unfortunate.”
A member of the Baloch rights movement, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, said that earlier half of Balochistan spoke for their rights. “This time around the entire province is participating, because now we have the support of our women.”
He said the state had not learned from East Pakistan because “probably they don’t want to”.
He said that he had lost many of his friends in the past and many of his friends in the present. “But we need to understand that to achieve what we want; we’ll have to make sacrifices.”
A tableau was presented by the Tehreek-i-Niswaan and a short film shown on missing persons.