Latif Johar’s 46-day hunger strike, which he was finally persuaded to end on the evening of June 6 by Baloch elders and human rights activists, as his health deteriorated to critical levels, was an act of desperation. The 22-year-old Baloch student sought the recovery of his friend Zahid Baloch, a leader of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), through the hunger strike staged outside the Karachi Press Club. According to reports, Zahid Baloch was ‘picked up’ by the Frontier Corps in the middle of March this year.
His friend’s courageous act has not brought him back, but Latif Johar has been assured by persons who spoke to him, including representatives of human rights bodies, that the matter has been taken up at a higher level. We hope this will have some impact. Johar himself has himself been hospitalised and is reportedly suffering various complications from his hunger strike. What he did drew attention to the cause of Balochistan’s missing people. But whether this will be enough to bring any real change we do not know.
The situation in the province is grim. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, hundreds of people have disappeared since 2010. In many cases, their tortured bodies have been found dumped on roadsides or open areas. In 2013 alone, 116 bodies were found. Fifty-seven were identified by members of their family as people who had gone missing.
The BSO, which claims it is a peaceful organisation, has been targeted in the past. So have other groups. What is crucial is that the disappearances stop. Persons guilty of any crime must be produced in court and undergo a process of trial and judgment. This has not been happening. The result is the kind of despair which made Latif Johar set up camp in Karachi in the hope that voices from his province would be heard. We are glad he has survived after his long ordeal, and we can only hope even more fervently that his action will help bring home the Baloch who are still missing.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2014.