Balochistan: The Plight of Disappeared in Balochistan
“My brother was picked up by the state intelligence agencies when he was returning home from office,” recalled Hani Baloch, the sister of a missing Baloch person, as she broke into tears while saying this. Baloch Women’s Panel (BWP) has been observing a hunger strike camp in front of Quetta Press Club for the past many years for the recovery of several missing persons.
The participants of this camp are predominantly the ones whose loved ones have been whisked away by the state intelligence agencies. But not many people have returned home yet. Unfortunately, many among these families which are observing hunger strike for the recovery of the missing persons comprise of those whose livelihood largely depends on the earnings of the male members of the family who have gone missing. Due to their disappearance, the families have come under intense economic burden and the families are starving.
“We are even uncertain if my brother is dead or alive. The government should at least tell us what the charges against my brother are. Why is he denied justice by being refused a legal trial? When is my brother going to return home?” asked Hani.
The cycle of enforced disappearance in Balochistan started several years ago. No practical measure has been taken by the government except some shallow statements. By virtue of efforts made by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 99 missing persons were recovered out of 1000 on 22 May, 2008. These missing persons belonged to different parts of Balochistan. There were 16 such people who were already spending a term inside the jail due to their alleged involvement in various forms of criminal cases.
While talking about the injustices being done to the young Baloch youth, Abdul Hayee, the Karachi-based Coordinator of HRCP, said his organization was playing its role after receiving various lists of missing persons but many of the missing persons’ families were unwilling to come forward to speak publicly. Those missing persons, who were recovered on 22 May, 2008 also included 141 women about whose disappearance no family member ever contacted the HRCP. However, different Baloch groups are raising voice about the immediate recovery of the missing persons.
“Eight of these missing women have been kept at Edhi Foundation,” he said, adding that these women had been forced to flee their homes after being accused of having illicit relations with some other men. Thus, they refrain from going home as they fear being honor-killed by their parents and siblings,” he said.
A written statement of Asian Legal Resource Center was presented at United Nations Human Rights Council which appealed to the United Nations to intervene and play its role for the release of those who were subjected to enforced disappearance. The report said that 100 students, political workers and human rights activists, majority of whom belong to Balochistan, went missing since 2002. Half of them were released after being detained for one year.
Before being released, these missing persons were brutally tortured in military torture cells in Dera Ghazai Khan during custody. Before former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf took over, there were very few cases of enforced disappearance in Pakistan. Now the situation is so grave, the report said, that there are plenty of cases of people who go missing and are subjected to torture.
According to the same report, the cases of missing persons began in Balochistan even before 9/11 because the government wanted to establish some cantonments in resource rich parts of Balochistan which the Baloch nationalists resisted. Under the disguise of war against terror, the government of Pervez Musharraf continued to whisk away people and put them into unknown torture cells. Sadly, these unlawful actions of General Musharraf regime were backed by some powerful countries of the world.
When the country’s judiciary tried to take notice of the widespread violation of human rights in the wake of issue of the missing persons, Musharraf sacked the then Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. There was a severe backlash to the official move as lawyers across the country took to the streets and launched an unprecedented movement intended to restore the judiciary. After extraordinary campaigning, the lawyers’ movement succeeded and the deposed Chief Justice was reinstated on his position. This gave a ray of hope to the families of the missing persons that the judiciary would its due role for the release of all went missing for obscure reasons.
Similarly, when former president Musharraf had to resign after the restoration of democracy in the country and coming of the Pakistan People’s Party in the government, the new government extended an apology to the people of Balochistan and vowed to undo the injustices of the past with the people of the resource-rich province.
Hence, the government issued a verified list of the 992 missing persons and promised that all of them would be released soon. Likewise, the government announced a multi-pronged Balochistan Package after holding exhaustive consultation with various stakeholders. The Package pledged to instantly resolve the issue of missing persons. The government has embarked upon a process of recovering the missing persons in Balochistan as the issue is being discussed in high-level meetings. Political experts are hoping that some progress would be made in the near future about the recovery of all missing persons as the issue is a cause of constant unrest in Balochistan.