May 21, 2014 ZEEBA T. HASHMI
With blistering feet, and braving the cold winter, a caravan of children, women and men defeated all odds to make it to the Capital armed with nothing more than their grievances regarding the missing persons issue; family and friends who have vanished from their lives without a trace. Initiated by Mama Qadeer Baloch, the caravan started from Quetta, and walked around 3000km on foot to stress the importance of the issue. It was unfortunate to learn they did not get the warm welcome they deserved as they passed through cities; in fact, a large urban centre like Lahore hardly welcomed them at all. This only further alienates the issue from what it is: a national issue.
There are reports that attempts were made to stop the caravan from proceeding further by the police and were threatened by men in plain clothes. Nonetheless, the determined caravan marched on for their rights in an overwhelming display of a peaceful, democratic protest. Official stats for missing persons show that there are more than 1000 people missing, whereas the Balochis claim more than 10,000 have vanished. This number may also include those killed, which pulls the numbers up.
The aim of the caravan, according to Mama Qadeer Baloch, was to highlight the issue before the Parliament and UN Offices, in hopes of getting some semblance of justice. The marchers were welcomed warmly by the UN, though no fruitful results came through. It was some comfort however, to know at least their grievances were heard and given attention to by the UN. On the other hand, the Government of Pakistan did not pay any heed to their issues which reflects once more on the intentional negligence of the federal government.
Recently, an unclaimed mass grave was found in Balochistan which caused concern regarding whether the bodies in the grave belonged to missing persons, but no forensic evidence has thus far been produced.The Supreme Court had earlier taken suo moto notice of the issue by calling the DG FC to present a list of missing persons before the court last year, but it turned out to be futile as most of the people were not produced or found already dead in custody. It is alleged that the persons were picked up by the FC and intelligence agencies but no steps have so far been taken to trace them.
A similar protest took place in Seattle, in the North West Pacific region of the US, where Balochis demanded that the US stop military funding to Pakistan as it was using resources against the Balochi people.
Historically, the Pakistan Army has taken major actions against the Balochis in 1948, 1958-59, 1963-69, 1973-77 and 2004 to date. Moreover, because of the geopolitics of their region, they are being exploited not only by the Pakistan Army, but also by the Iranian Army. It is also alleged that aerial bombardment has taken place against them leading to internal displacement, with the Balochis seeking shelter from the army’s extremities. It is hard to understand the full picture of Balochistan as the media pertaining to the province, especially websites concerning their welfare, have been blocked by the PTA to create a complete black-hole of information.
The case of Balochistan is complex because of a sparse and sporadic population, but also because the province is enriched with resources which its people feel have been unjustifiably snatched from them to cater to the needs of other provinces in the federation, especially the Punjab. Some Balochis have now taken to militant outfits and are demanding an independent Balochistan. It must be mentioned here that the separatist movement in Balochistan must not be considered similar to the demands of the Taliban which is entirely different in nature. The Baloch militant outfits are demanding for separation and are indigenous, whereas the Taliban are demanding the overthrow of the Constitution of Pakistan and want to implement their own version of Islam across Pakistan. However, it cannot be ignored that due to the vulnerability of the province, many other outfits, including the Taliban Shura Council are taking roots there.
When there is no security, when human lives are not dignified as they deserve, trouble will inevitably fill the void and will remain so unless serious reform at every level is considered. It is high time the government takes notice of the situation and engages with the issues one by one, respectfully and legally, before things get any worse than they are now.
The writer is a freelance columnist.