By Zohra Yusuf
If ever proof was needed that Punjab, Islamabad and the army are all that really matter in Pakistan, it is evident in the attention the two dharnas are getting, not only from the media but from politicians, the superior judiciary and those euphemistically referred to as the powers that be.
Contrast the non-stop interest in the two groups of protesters and their demands to the neglect that Balochistan is facing from each of the actors identified above.
It appears that neither the media nor the federal government nor the judiciary have a moment to spare for certain serious developments taking place in Balochistan.
If ever proof was needed that some lives in Pakistan matter more than others, it has been demonstrated by the outrage at the killing of 14 Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers in Lahore.
The chorus calling for registration of FIRs against the highest authority in the land and application of anti-terrorist laws is not something one has heard at the death of hundreds of Baloch who have been systematically picked up, tortured and dumped after being killed.
In fact, even getting an FIR registered against unknown persons is an uphill task for Baloch families. The case of Zahid Baloch, the head of the banned Baloch Students Organisation (Azad) is a case in point.
Picked up in March this year, his disappearance led to a 46-day hunger strike by Lateef Johar of BSO outside the Karachi Press Club.
The chief minister of Balochistan had to personally assure that an FIR against Zahid Baloch’s disappearance would be filed (although it’s unclear whether it was actually done).
No institution seems to have a moment to spare for certain serious developments taking place in the restive province.
There has been a great deal written in praise of the women who have camped for weeks at the call of Tahirul Qadri or attended sit-ins at the bidding of Imran Khan.
Yet little attention has been paid to the women of Balochistan who, without the juggernaut of organisational power and resources that PAT and PTI possess, have simply followed their hearts, walked miles and sat in protest camps to draw attention to the enforced disappearance of their loved ones.
The objective of pointing out the dichotomy in the response to two sets of crises (the one in Islamabad and the other in Balochistan) is not to belittle the loss of human lives in Model Town, Lahore.
Perhaps, the fact that the shooting by the Punjab police happened before television cameras left a deeper impact on our psyche.
The hundreds of Baloch, on the other hand, have been tortured and killed in privacy in unknown places and their deaths only confirmed when the dumped bodies are discovered — sometimes carrying some identification paper, often not.
However, visible or not, the muted response to these killings betrays a certain callousness.
On the eve of the international day for enforced disappearances, three bodies of Baloch youth were found in Karachi. Qadeer Baloch, leading the campaign to locate the victims of enforced disappearances claimed that the three were on their list of the missing.
In fact, the surfacing in parts of Karachi of bodies of those picked up in Balochistan is a trend that has been recorded over the past two years.
Last year, there were 17 cases of bodies found in different parts of Karachi. Perhaps the perpetrators believe that in the city’s mayhem such incidents will barely be noticed.
While the attention of political leaders and the media is riveted by the spectacle in Islamabad, many worrisome developments in Balochistan are going practically unnoticed.
In recent years, we have seen the rise of religious extremism in Balochistan. Whether this is exclusively the result of inroads made by banned organisations, such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, or as alleged by some a deliberate attempt to counter the Baloch nationalist struggle, the repercussions have been serious for the people of the province.
The Hazaras were the first to become victims of this menace. With the rise in targeted killings, they have desperately tried to seek protection elsewhere — their latest destination being Sri Lanka from where sadly, among other asylum seekers, they are being deported.
The threat to education is a more recent phenomenon. Some months back, schools in Panjgur began to be attacked for offering English medium education and had to remain closed for a long period.
The attackers were from an earlier unknown group called Tanzeem Furqanul Islam. More recently, a school in Turbat has been attacked for similar reasons by a group calling itself Al Jihad.
If one can discern shades of Boko Haram here, the likes of IS (Islamic State) also seem to be getting a foothold in the province.
Wall chalkings in Dasht, Turbat, openly call for the killing of Zikris and Hindus with the words “Zikrion ka anjam — maut ya Islam” and “Na Hindu, na Zikri — sirf Sunni, sirf Sunni”.
These messages inciting murder are signed by Lashkar-i-Khorasan. Shortly after this graffiti appeared, seven members of the Zikri sect were killed in Mashkay, Awaran, when their place of worship was attacked.
The struggle of the people of Balochistan for their rights had always remained secular. Is there a deliberate attempt to create a new force to counter their movement? Apart from minorities, other sections of society have also been targeted.
There has been a sudden spurt of acid attacks on women in Quetta and journalists continue to die in the line of fire.
More than 30 journalists have been killed in Balochistan in the past five years, mostly in Khuzdar but lately in Quetta as well.
The situation in Balochistan is precarious, but the chances of these issues grabbing headlines or television prime time are minimal.
The strident ones in Islamabad will continue to rule the airwaves. And for the rest there will be silence.
The writer is chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2014