Thousands of families have received the dead bodies of their loved ones and thousands are still missing.
By AREEBA FALAK
The lack of intent of Pakistan’s judiciary to “rescue” Baloch people is the main reason why they continue to be picked up by Pakistan’s army and intelligence agencies, according to activists of Balochistan who have been fighting to get justice in the “missing person cases”.
The Pakistan army being the “perpetrator” and the judiciary being a “puppet”, the families of people who have been abducted keep fighting a battle without hope. In this battle, the obvious target has been Balochistan’s lawyers who have been trying to pressurise the judicial system to take action in cases of missing people. This has resulted in wiping out of “an entire generation” of Balochistan’s lawyers.
Lateef Johar Baloch, a member of Balochistan’s Student Organisation-Azad (BSO-Azad), said, “This is Pakistan’s own judiciary which is controlled by its military. The so-called ‘institutes’ of Pakistan government in Balochistan, including the judiciary, serve the Pakistan army’s interest by defending and curtailing their barbarism. The lawyers are constantly under threat in Balochistan. Many lawyers have been abducted, killed or seriously threatened by Pakistani forces. On 8 August 2016, around 100 innocent people were killed by Pakistan-backed terrorists in Balochistan’s capital Quetta. Out of the 100, 62 people were top lawyers of Balochistan. The attack sparked international condemnation as it was, without a doubt, pre-planned under the Pakistan army’s supervision. The attack has not only caused us to lose ‘an entire generation of Balochistan’s top lawyers’, but has also threatened our existing lawyers who have been actively campaigning for the safe release of Baloch abductees in Balochistan.”
I.A. Rehman, in his introduction to Mohammad Hanif’s book The Baloch who is not missing and others who are writes, “Pakistan was free of enforced disappearances till mid-1980s when a large number of its citizens went to join the jihad in Afghanistan. While most of them left their homes after telling their families, many of them left unannounced. The latter largely comprised of students of madarsas in Khyber-Pakhtunwa region who were given marching orders by the managers of their seminaries. Early in the 1990s, the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) claimed that over two scores of its activists had disappeared during the military operations carried out to restore order in Karachi. These cases, too, did not cause much of a stir outside Karachi. It was in 2000 after 9/11 when the United States launched its ‘war against terror’ in Afghanistan that the media started reporting the enforced disappearances.”
The so-called ‘institutes’ of Pakistan government in Balochistan, including the judiciary, serve the Pakistan army’s interest by defending their barbarism. Lawyers are constantly under threat in Balochistan. Many lawyers have been abducted, killed or seriously threatened by Pakistani forces.
Rehman said that these disappearances didn’t gather much public support because the victims were accused of collaborating with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. “The mist of confusion began to clear in 2005-2006 when disappearances were reported in good numbers from Balochistan, as there was no pro-Taliban/Al-Qaeda activity there. Besides, the first crop of victims comprised nationalist students who were known to be campaigning for their people’s democratic rights.”
Detailing the present phenomenon, Johar Baloch said, “The pattern of picking up people by the army varies from place to place. Some are picked up from markets at daylight, army check posts, from colleges and universities, some are stopped and rounded up while travelling, while others are directly picked up by raids on their houses during army operations. The armymen, in some cases, appear in civil clothes with their faces covered while picking up Baloch students from colleges, markets and during travelling. First, the victims are both verbally and physically abused and a group of soldiers force the victim to the ground, while constantly kicking and hitting him with their rifle butts until the person faints. Next, they tie the victim’s hands and blindfold him and throw him in a military vehicle. After this, the person is taken to their military barracks and torture cells.”
Organisations working for human rights and rule of law in Balochistan had started reporting a substantial increase in the number of enforced disappearances by the end of 2006. The figures of victims quoted by them ranged from 400 to 600, while Baloch organisations mentioned much higher figures. In its petition to the Supreme Court filed at the beginning of 2007, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) presented a list of 240 missing persons. Rahman writes, “As the campaign against enforced disappearances gathered strength and the judiciary started taking greater interest in the matter, a new phenomenon — appearance of dead bodies at public places — began to cause serious concern.”
Johar Baloch said, “Mutilated bodies of people picked up by the army are dumped near populated areas, roadsides or handed over to hospitals and sometimes buried in mass graves. Bodies with missing organs, scratches with blades on skins that say ‘Pakistan zindabad’, eyes taken out, missing nails, marks of rope around the neck, signs of electrocution — these visible signs explain the kind of horrible torture they have gone through.”
After facing heat, the Balochistan government constituted the “Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances” which was headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court and two retired high court judges. The commission had a brief tenure, 1 May 2010 to 31 December 2010, but gave three important conclusions. The commission confirmed that fresh incidents of involuntary disappearance continued to be reported. When it began working, it had 189 cases before it and by the end of its eight-month assignment, 203 fresh cases of disappearances had been added to the list. It disposed of 254 cases, succeeding in tracing 134 persons, but 138 cases were left pending. The commission came to the conclusion that the role of state services, particularly the military intelligence agencies, in enforced disappearances could not be denied. It admitted that “we have not come across any such case of a missing person whose custody may be alleged to be with someone other than the state agency.” The commission also strongly criticised the conduct of the police. They were blamed for becoming the intelligence agencies’ accessories in picking up the latter’s victims.
Johar Baloch said, “Recently, Wahid Baloch, a well-known Baloch bookman, was abducted in late July from Sindh’s largest city of Karachi along with another colleague, but the First Investigation Report (FIR) over his abduction was rejected by police as Pakistan’s army and spy agencies were involved. The FIR is still pending.”
Farzana Majeed, general secretary of “Voice for Baloch Missing persons” and sister of missing student leader Zakir Majeed, said, “The only option that families of abducted people have is to do peaceful protests. In my seven years of experience, I did everything for the safe recovery of my brother Zakir Majeed. I did peaceful protests, went to the High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan. I lost my future and my career. In the past seven years I didn’t waste one second for the safe recovery of my brother, but instead of giving me justice, the Pakistani government and intelligence agencies ignored me and threatened me. The only option is to do peaceful protests and live with hope that one day your beloved brother or father will come back.” Farzana Majeed did her Masters in Biochemistry from Balochistan University, and is currently based in Washington. Her brother had done Masters in English and was vice-president of BSO-Azad when he was picked up while returning from Mastung with a couple of friends on 8 June 2009. His friends were released by the abductors 15 minutes later, while Zakir has not returned for the past seven years.
Farzana Majeed said, “Over 20,000 people of Balochistan have been abducted. Various activists like Dr Deen Mohammad also went missing since 2009 and till date, we don’t know his whereabouts. Zahid Baloch is missing since 2014, Ali Asghar Bangulzai is missing since the past 10 years. Thousands of families have received the dead bodies of their loved ones and thousands are still missing. The High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan have totally failed to deliver justice to Baloch missing persons. The whole of Balochistan is suffering injustice. The people of Pakistan have no respect for law in Pakistan.”
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, an artist and Baloch rights activist, said, “The saga of missing persons in Balochistan is not something random. It is an organised response by the state against those who seek independence of Balochistan or raise voice against the exploitation there. The cases of missing persons are pending because the judiciary doesn’t want to antagonise the powerful intelligence agencies responsible for disappearances and they know that their decisions will never be respected by those responsible for disappearances. There is total impunity. Enforced disappearance here hasn’t yet been criminalised here. The consequences of this for families there is no closure to their pain and they have given up on the judiciary. There is no solution to the backlog of cases as those responsible do not find it convenient and let things remain in limbo. Pakistan is responsible for the disappearances; so it is futile to expect any help. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan tries to highlight the issue, but it remains unheard.”