May 10, 2022
By Lateef Johar Baloch
Since the no-confidence motion took place and a new government came into place, the question floating around among the Baloch community, in particular, has been, “Can the current coalition regime in Pakistan do something different in Baluchistan’s case, especially regarding enforced disappearances?”
If we examine the past records of the parties in the coalition government, the answer is a big ‘no’.
Before hoping for a change, it is essential to remember what has happened in Balochistan during the regimes of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). The fact is that Balochistan’s people have always suffered in the same way – in some cases even worse – than they did during the PTI regime.
When PPP came to power in 2008 after military dictator General Musharraf, it did not only carry out what the dictator had left behind, but even intensified abductions, killings, and the violation of people’s civil and political rights.
On April 9, 2009, three prominent Baloch Political leaders, Ghulam Mohammad, Lala Muneer and Shér Mohammad, were killed in all possibility in the country’s military dungeons. Their mutilated bodies were thrown from a helicopter and found by a shepherd. The victims had been picked up and were disappeared from their lawyer’s office in Turbat city just five days before being found dead.
Their lawyer, Kachkol Ali, was not only a former member of the Balochistan Assembly but an opposition leader and minister as well. Courts are considered interpreters of constitutions and laws, but in Pakistan, this is not true. It did not stop with the humiliation of the lawyer and former MPA: Mr Kachkol was also forced into exile. His son was abducted and disappeared for months in 2014, aiming to silence him. The lawyer was a key eyewitness to the incident and could play a leading role in making the perpetrators face justice.
But one no was thinking so, including the PPP leaders.
In 2009, two high profile Baloch leaders – Zakir Majeed and Dr. Deen Mohammad – were abducted and disappeared. Their abduction led Balochistan to the point where enforced disappearances had become routine along with the extrajudicial killing of thousands of people and the recovery of hundreds of decomposed human bodies.
Does anyone remember the mass graves with dozens of bodies that were discovered in Jan 2014, when PML-N was in power? But instead of investigating and carrying out the forensic procedures, the bodies were forcibly reburied. Only two victims were recognized. One had been abducted by the security forces, and the other by those who had been allegedly working for the establishment from Awaran, my birth district. Their recognition was enough for Balochistan to believe who the rest of the victims were. Of course, they were also missing persons.
The two victims who had been recognized had had nothing to do with any politics. One of them was victimized because of his social kinship with some pro-independence activists. I had very close connections to and was like a member of the victim’s family. I never saw the victim in their circles and even in family gatherings. I found out about him after he was abducted. But still, he was killed and dumped. The incident made me think and believe more in my struggle for the rights of Balochistan’s people. The establishment could use any name and tag for that person, but I and those who know him can never accept the state’s rhetoric. Unfortunately, he was not the only victim of collective punishment. I can name dozens with solid firsthand evidence.
Suppose the PML-N did not ignore those bodies and trace their identities. In that case, more than a hundred Baloch families and their children could have been saved from leaving everything behind, and spending their time on roads and streets searching for their loved ones. It would still be better for them if only they knew that their loved ones had been killed and dumped in those graves. By now, there would have been some kind of closure and the families could have continued their lives somewhat normally.
But neither was the safe return of their loved ones the PML-N’s priority nor did they have the right to know if their loved ones were among those dumped in the mass graves.
Impartial investigation of those bodies could have proven many things – but no one bothered to think so.
I believe it may also be remembered that Baloch elders, women and children marched from Quetta to Karachi, then from Karachi to Islamabad for more than 2000 kilometres, while shouting and demanding the release of Zakir Majeed, Dr Deen Mohammad, Mohammad Ramzan, and hundreds of other missing persons. Did the PML-N listen to them? No.
Can I myself forget the abduction of the Baloch Students Organization’s president and my friend, Zahid Baloch, while Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister?
To highlight the abduction, I put my life in danger by doing a 46-day hunger strike from April 22 to June 6, 2014. The Karachi Press Club and its journalists witnessed my deteriorating health situation and challenges during the strike. Do you know what was more painful to me than my health conditions? The silence of the Nawaz regime.
Do you remember Sarfaraz Bugti of PML-N, then the home minister in Balochistan, who denied the existence of Zahid Baloch? Later he became an ally of the Imran regime, and now again, his party joined the new coalition.
However, after 37 days of our strike Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, the CM at the time came to our camp and not only ratified Zahid’s existence and politics but also signed our petition, which was for the UN to act for the victim’s release from the military’s dungeons. He openly told us and the media that he could not do anything on the issue. Here, the person with the highest political position in Balochistan acknowledged that he was powerless. So, you tell me, who can we trust and can we expect anything from this kind of impotent regime?
Instead of releasing Zahid Baloch, our homes were attacked during the hunger strike. Mortars were fired on Karima Baloch’s house. Karima too had been part of our protest outside Karachi Press Club. We were forced to escape to Canada. My parents’ mud house was attacked and burned down. Even after our escape, Karima’s uncle and several other family members were abducted. Collective punishment has never stopped during all regimes over the last two decades. I still have no hope that it will.
You cannot convince the victims by the rhetoric that the parliament is helpless because of the establishment. If so, they should stop covering up the establishment’s deeds and misleading the world that there is a democracy in Pakistan.
Are the PPP and PML-N the same when they are in opposition? We can only dream about it. Their past policies show that they will not walk the talk regarding Balochistan’s missing persons. It’s also expected that they will continue Imran Khan’s policies of releasing a few missing persons to cash in on the issue, but in turn, abducting hundreds more.
Until the parties do not rethink and change their past policies on enforced disappearances, today’s promises end no different than broken promises and apologies from the past. That is the only gift which they have given to the people of Balochistan.