Dec 8, 2023
Among several others sitting continuously outside the Islamabad Press Club since November 27, to protest the enforced disappearances of their family members, 20 year old Saira Baloch is also sitting there.
Both her brother and cousin – Asif Baloch and Rasheed Baloch, have been missing since 2018.
“The two men were picked up by law enforcement agencies from a picnic spot in Naushki, and their arrest was even acknowledged by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Balochistan. However, we were never ever informed about their whereabouts,” Saira says.
This is not the first time that the relatives of missing persons have come to Islamabad for a protest. They have held many long marches from Quetta to Islamabad and staged sit-ins in the federal capital to grab the attention of authorities and the national media.
“I was in 8th class when my brother and cousin were picked up. Before that, I had never been out of my hometown Khuzdar, but my life totally changed after their disappearances,” she says.”I have been to Karachi, Naushki, Hub, and Islamabad to demand the safe return of my loved ones.”
Enforced disappearances have been a grave concern for rights defenders in Pakistan, with Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa being the worst affected regions in the country.
Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, an organization that collects data and information of enforced disappearances, claims that over 5,000 people have gone missing in Balochistan. But government officials often deny this claim. According to the government based Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED), there are only 450 people missing from Balochistan.
Like Saira, Mahzaib has also been on the road and in protest camps to demand the safe release of his cousin Rashid Hussain. He was arrested by authorities in the United Arab Emirates in 2018 and was eventually deported to Pakistan in 2019. But security forces took him into custody at Karachi Airport, and since then, his whereabouts are unknown.
“In the last six years, I have knocked on all doors of hope, be it the courts or any other department, but all I get in return is despair,” says Mahzaib.
The Islamabad High Court ordered the caretaker Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti to meet with the relatives of Baloch missing persons and hear their grievances. but even though the families met with the minister, they say he had little to offer. Instead, he expressed doubts over their complaints.
“Sarfaraz Bugti is not even ready to accept this as an issue. After the court hearing, he falsely claimed that most missing persons end up in Karachi because of disputes with their spouses! In our meeting with him, we clearly told him that we have no faith in him. How can we pin our hopes on a person who is not even ready to acknowledge it as an issue?” Saira asks.
Slowly, Mahzaib and Saira’s despair is changing into anger as they believe all roads leading to justice have been blocked for them.
“Most of the interim government is from Balochistan now, but we (the people) are living like slaves. I would urge my Baloch nation not to vote for people who, for their own reasons, imprison their own Baloch brothers in jails and then make fun of their old mothers by accusing them of being dramatic,” Mahzaib says.
A new wave of unrest has swept through the families of Baloch missing persons after a missing person named Balach Mola Bukhsh was killed in an alleged encounter by the CTD Balochistan. The extrajudicial killing sparked protests in Turbat, which have now spread to other parts of Balochistan as well.
“The CTD, which claimed custody of my brothers, is now involved in killing missing persons on the pretext of fake encounters. We have been waiting for years, but the CTD has failed to tell us what crime our brothers committed and under what law they have disappeared,” Saira says.