The Baloch community in south-west Pakistan observed the Baloch Missing Persons’ Day on June 8 by holding Twitter spaces and organising social media campaigns. The marginalised ethnic community has been pleading unsuccessfully with the Pakistani Army and the government for releasing its abducted people from torture cells and jails. The community has held protests across the world including in front of the UN headquarters in New York and at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and have observed one of the longest running non-stop strikes for over 14 years in Pakistan.
In his opinion write-up on the Baloch Missing Persons’ Day, Sagaar Baloch says in The Balochistan Post, that “Forced disappearances, which have never been justified anywhere, constitute a humanitarian crisis for us. According to the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), there have been over 50,000 registered cases of disappearances, including 300 women, with more than 20,000 mutilated dead bodies dumped”.
The Baloch people remain underdeveloped and poor despite living in a mineral-rich province that constitutes nearly 44 per cent of Pakistan. The Baloch believe that Pakistan, acting like an erstwhile colonial power, is siphoning off its gas, coal and other mineral resources in collusion with China.
The other big concern, a human rights one, is that the Pakistani agencies have been forcibly taking away the Baloch people including students, women, activists, human rights defenders and their intellectuals. It is not just the Pakistani State but also the notorious Death Squads that operate in the shadows with the tacit approval of the government.
It was BSO Azad (BSO-AZAD) which designated June 8 as the “Baloch Missing Persons’ Day” so that the Baloch who are illegally arrested, tortured and sometimes ‘killed and dumped’ are remembered. The day is also to ensure that the ones who remain in Pakistani torture cells can be hopefully traced and retrieved. The unending flood of “enforced missing persons” has disrupted Baloch families socially, financially and drained them emotionally.
Baloch families, led by their women, have ensured that protests and demonstrations continue in not just Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, but also at Pakistani capital Islamabad and the financial powerhouse of Karachi. They ask not only to see their missing men and women but also that they are produced before the legal system for a fair trial.
The sustained victimisation of the community has drawn more women into the struggle for independence.
With Balochistan largely run on the directions of Pakistani spy agencies, the region remains out of bounds for the media including the international media. The intensity of the conflict, that has seen Pakistan press jets, helicopter gunships as well as drones into the battlefield against the Baloch armed groups, has remained hidden from the global media, unless the international media has chosen to close its eyes deliberately on the severity of a full-fledged war in Pakistan.
Even though Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif assured the Baloch people about taking up the issue of missing persons with “powerful quarters”, on his first visit to the province soon after taking over the reins of the country, no progress has taken place. Experts are sceptic that Sharif can even dare take up the Baloch issue with the army or the spy agencies. However, his statement did prove to the outside world about who is the boss in the province.
Enforced disappearances are a violation under international laws. Repeated calls to Pakistan to end enforced disappearances, investigate such cases and hold authorities accountable have elicited no response.
Pakistan has been reprimanded on a regular basis for its poor track record in tracing the victims. On the contrary, the country’s government has doubled down on the families of missing persons, ensuring that they are not able to pursue the cases legally or without fear. Under former prime minister Imran Khan, the government enacted laws that sought to discourage and penalise the families of missing persons if they dared to lodge a complaint before the police or the courts.
Instead on clamping down on the human rights abuse, Pakistani authorities instead expanded the tool of enforced disappearances, or State-sponsored kidnappings, to other ethnic and religious groups.
In the Muslim-majority nation, even the Shias complain that their people are being forcibly kidnapped by Pakistani personnel. It is the same story with the Sindhi activists who say that their activists are being abducted by Pakistani forces.
The state of Pakistan is such that after the unprecedented and widespread May 9 violence against the Pakistani Army, the security forces have gone on a kidnapping spree in the entire nation. The most pampered and prosperous region Punjab has been brought on an even keel with Balochistan as far as kidnappings are concerned.