3 October 2022
QUETTA: Families and activists have expressed the fear that missing persons can be killed in encounters in Balochistan.
Speaking with Voicepk.net Editor-in-Chief Munizae Jahangir during a webshow on enforced disappearance at a protest camp outside Quetta Press Club, families and activists revealed a stark and sinister reality that some ‘missing’ people are eventually found but unfortunately not alive.
Family members of Shahzad Ahmed, a 22-year-old victim of enforced disappearance, tell Voicepk.net that he was allegedly killed during the Ziarat operation against terrorists in July. Shahzad Ahmed, a student with a diploma in civil engineering went missing from Quetta’s Sorab Road on June 4, 2022.
Ali Akbar, Shahzad Ahmed’s brother, says the family faced great difficulty in getting the first investigation report registered with the police. “We went to different police stations and met with different SHOs to get an FIR registered but we were then told to meet the Senior Superintendent of Police who could not us either,” Ali Akbar recalls.
“During the period of my brother’s disappearance, his friends who are students themselves arranged a protest at the University of Balochistan to call for his recovery and that of other missing young people,” Ali Akbar says.
On July 19, they were informed that his brother’s dead body was lying at the mortuary in Quetta’s Civil Hospital. ” The body was completely bruised and had torture marks and bullet holes,” he reveals. “I couldn’t recognize my brother or bear seeing the body but I was able to identify Shahzad through birthmarks on his foot,” he adds.
According to Ali Akbar, Shahzad Ahmed was allegedly killed during the Ziarat operation against terrorists.
According to the Inter-Services Press Relations (ISPR), the military operation was launched to recover Lt Colonel Laiq Baig Mirza and his cousin Umer Jawed who were taken hostage by terrorists at Zairat after paying a visit to the Ziarat residency there on July 13. Lt Colonel Laiq Baig Mirza was martyred while two terrorists were killed in the ensuing operation on July 14. The military claimed that five terrorists were killed during another rescue operation for the civilian hostage.
However, rights activists disputed the claim saying those killed were missing persons. “After Colonel Laiq Shaheed’s killing in July, the authorities responded by killing all missing persons in custody,” noted activist Mama Qadeer tells Voicepk.net at the protest camp, adding that those killed in the operation were falsely branded as terrorists.
“We pleaded for a judicial inquiry to investigate if these were terrorists or missing persons but they only launched an inquiry after a long delay to make the exercise useless,” Mama Qadeer says.
Mama Qadeer says he is still facing threats over activism for missing persons
The activist says he still faces threats over organising protests for the victims of enforced disappearance in Balochistan.
Mama Qadeer, President of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, has held the protest camp outside the Quetta Press Club for the last 13 years. The camp is filled with pictures of missing persons who have vanished over the years. Aggrieved families bring photographs of their loved ones here with the hope that they would be recovered.
Mama Qadeer says he started receiving threats recently to end his activism toward mobilising public opinion against the enforced disappearances of hundreds of Baloch people.
“I have always gotten threats and faced attacks during our long marches,” he tells Voicepk.net. Bullets and trucks have been used to disperse and stop their demonstrations, he adds. “Yet we never backed down and told them that only our dead bodies will be moved from our demonstration.”
Mama Qadeer recalls how authorities had barred their protest march from passing through the cantonment area in Multan. “They [authorities] threatened our girls (members of families of missing persons) with weapons and ordered them to return or be killed but we did not surrender and continued our march.”
Mama Qadeer says threats are not a new thing for him in his long struggle for the recovery of missing persons in Balochistan.
“We’ve been attacked in Quetta too,” he recalls, adding that his arm was broken in the said attack and he still faces difficulty working with the injured limb. “So threats aren’t new to us. Even this camp was burned down once. People passing by often ridicule and curse us. This hasn’t stopped our protests for missing persons before and it never will.”
Mama Qadeer is questioning the State’s responsibility towards incidents of enforced disappearance, seeking answers from the authorities about how people have disappeared into thin air.
Mama Qadeer’s own personal tragedy triggered his protests when his son was taken away by state agencies in 2009. “My son, Jalil Leki, was taken from our home on November 13, 2009, by officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Deputy Commissioner’s office,” he tells Voicepk.net. “They had come in four cars with the ISI and DC officers who forcefully took my son and left him to rot in a torture cell for three years,” he adds.
Even at that time, the authorities had threatened him to end his protests, threatening to kill his son if he did not stop protesting. The activist says he was not just protesting for his son but for all the missing persons in the country. “These people of you see they’re all like my sons and brothers and I am not just protesting for my son but fighting this war for everyone,” he says while pointing to pictures of missing persons displayed in the camp and members of their families sitting there.
There are many victims of enforced disappearance whose families have joined Mama Qadeer’s protest camp. One such victim is Saifullah Ruhdini who went missing in 2013. “Police constable Saifullah Ruhdini was taken away by armed men, some who were in plain clothes while others in uniform, that came in two cars,” Ali Akbar, brother of Saifullah Ruhdini, tells Voicepk.net. His family is coming to the protest for the last seven years but they have no word yet about the whereabouts of Saifullah Ruhdini.
Similarly, Muhammad Yaqoob, a grade-17 teacher, was taken away from Lasbela district’s Vindar area on July 5, 2013. The security forces took his father in custody when they allegedly found an explosive device in their car when their family was returning home from Karachi, according to Yaqoob’s young son who was in the car along with his grandparents. The security forces brutally tortured their grandparents when they tried to stop them from taking away Yaqoob.
Yaqoob’s son and nephew are attending the camp for several years. Yaqoob’s nephew says their uncle [Muhammad Yaqoob] was presented before a judge who ordered his release but he was never released. “Our family registered a kidnapping case at the time,” Yaqoob’s son tells Voicepk.net, adding that no case was ever registered against Muhammad Yaqoob over the alleged possession of a bomb. Yet years have passed since he went missing in 2013 but nothing has happened.
The issue of missing persons has been happening for years. It started in Balochistan and FATA but now the missing person issue has spread to Sindh, Punjab and every other area of Pakistan. There is no area in Pakistan where there are not any missing persons.
People have started to raise their voices against the disappearances. The families have two simple pleas. If the people have done something wrong they should be tried in court. If they have been killed extra-judicially then at least their bodies should be returned to their families.
Voicepk.net also spoke to members of families of missing persons at another protest camp outside the Governor’s House in Quetta. The camp is run by women whose brothers, sons, husbands, and fathers have gone missing. These grief-stricken women hold pictures of their loved ones inscribed with the names of the victims and the dates of their disappearance.
Seema Baloch, sister of Shabeer Baloch, says his 24-year-old brother went missing from Turbat on October 4, 2016. He was a student affiliated with the Baloch Student Organization-Azad. She says security forces personnel took away his brother along with 25 other students in a raid. “Everyone was released after a few weeks but my brother has not been released after six years,” Seema Baloch tells Voicepk.net.
Seema Baloch says families of the missing are terrified since the Ziarat incident lest their loved ones turn up dead in so-called operations. “We are terrified that our loved ones who have been captive might meet a similar fate,” she says.
She says the families of missing persons are protesting outside the Governor’s House for over 50 days. “Our demands are simple, if our loved ones have committed a crime then they should be tried in court,” she explains. “Leaving them in prisons for years and releasing their dead bodies is not justice,” she adds.
“We also demand that no missing person should be killed in a fake encounter and that our innocent family members should be finally released.”
Another victim of enforced disappearance Israr Baloch disappeared on February 5, 2015. His mother and sister are part of the protest camp. “Both my 16-year-old brother and my cousin were kidnapped from Quetta while my cousin was released after six years but my brother is still missing,” Israr Baloch’s sister tells Voicepk.net.
The missing persons include children who have not even reached adulthood. Sitting in the camp, Israr’s mother has her eyes full of tears, longing for his son’s return.
Similarly, Shah Fahad was forcibly taken away by counter-terrorism department personnel from his house in the Kharan area on March 16, 2022. “We registered an FIR over his abduction but have not yet heard anything about his whereabouts,” Shah Fahad’s sister says.
Many of the families have received calls in which they were told to keep silent otherwise they could see their missing loved ones dead. The families in the camp say they fear that their loved ones who were kidnapped and illegally detained may be killed in fake encounters. They sit here with only a glimmer of hope that their loved one will be returned.
Just as hundreds of missing persons are untraced, a proposed law on the criminalisation of enforced disappearance awaits passage in the parliament. The bill on enforced disappearances is presently under consideration of the Senate as well as a special cabinet committee, headed by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar. The families of missing persons hope that the incumbent federal government has the courage to solve the issue of enforced disappearances in the country.