December 10th, 2021
By Munizae Jahangir
Speakers demanded holding to account state officials involved in the extra-legal detentions of citizens, at an International Human Rights Day seminar titled “Pakistan’s Hidden Tragedy” organized by the Balochistan National party – Mengal (BNP-M) to commemorate and highlight the plight of victims of enforced disappearances especially from Pakistan’s embattled, Balochistan province.
A number of notable journalists, activists and politicians including Ahsan Iqbal, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Mohsin Dawar, Afrasiab Khattak, Manzoor Pashteen, Hamid Mir, Ghafoor Haideri and Asma Sherazi attended the seminar and demanded that the state immediately take steps to halt this practice, which has now become a national issue.
The seminar was also attended by several families of victims of enforced disappearances, who held-up pictures of post cards demanding the release of their young ones. Amongst these families were Nazia Akbar and Zarina Baloch. Nazia’s 20 years old brother Amir Akbar was picked up from Lasbela Balochistan while he was working at a petrol station.
On September the 23rd a black Vigo visited Amir’s place of work and left after asking him some questions. Sometime later a police van came by and forcibly took him away. He has not been seen since. “My brother suffers from a bone disease and often gets feverish. Since his disappearance my mother clutches his medicine in her hands and wails,” explains Nazia.
Zarina Baloch has a similar story to tell, her 24-year old husband, Shabbir Baloch, who was a member of the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO) was picked up 6 years ago from the Turbat area of Balochistan (allegedly) by uniformed members of the Frontier Core (FC) from a relative’s home. His wife was a firsthand witness to her husband’s detention and torture.
“I have been on the streets since he disappeared. I move from city to city to attend protests for his release,” says Zarina, while talking to Munizae Jahangir.
Addressing the seminar former Chairman PEMRA, Absar Alam declared that unlike the past today’s Punjab is much more conscious to the plight of missing persons and their families. “It is the responsibility of both the media and the judiciary to be firmly honest in holding the state accountable and to ensure that the human rights promised to the people of Pakistan in the constitution are respected by all state functionaries,” said Absar Alam while addressing the participants of the conference.
Member National Assembly (MNA) Mohsin Dawar declared that no territory of our country and no segment of our society is safe from the menace of enforced disappearances. “This practice started out from Dr. Deen Baloch (Balochistan) and has now reached Matiullah Jan (Islamabad). Students, doctors, teachers, political workers everyone has suffered this oppression. And if the people running Pakistan think that they can continue to role this way they are sorely mistaken,” he said.
“People ask ‘Who is abducting these missing persons?’ I think this question is redundant. All of us know who is taking these people away. The real question is ‘Where is the parliament and the judiciary?’ ‘Why are they not holding these very powerful people accountable?’ If these people are not held accountable Pakistan will not survive,” declared former senator Afrasiab Khattak, while agreeing to Mr. Alam’s categorization that citizens residing in Punjab have started waking up to the realities of life in Pakistan’s peripheral areas.
“When I returned after being held under illegal detention, albeit for a few hours, I had a choice to make. I could either follow in the footsteps of the victims before me and stay hushed about by experience or speak out about my experience. I choose the latter, and recorded by experience for people to see,” Matiullah Jan remarked about his own experience of being abducted while addressing the seminar.