Karachi (Pakistan): Families of Baloch and Sindhi missing persons in different Pakistani cities held protests on Eid-al Adha, June 28, against enforced disappearances. In Karachi, Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch’s family and other Baloch families led a march from the Art Council to Karachi Press Club, demanding the release of all missing persons.
“Baba zindagi bohate kathin hoti ja rahi hai, ek ek lamha sadiyon jesa mehsoos hota hai… Mujhe ek nakaam aur bebas aur bad-bakhat qarar deti hai, kaise is haqeeqat ke saath mein aur zindagi guzarun, jis din in lavaahiqin ka bharosa insaaf se uth gaya, tu apni adalat khud qaim karen gaye (Father, life has becomes challenging, each moment is unbearable and feels like a century. It makes me helpless – how long will I continue to live with such a bitter truth? The day when the kin of missing persons will no longer hope for justice, we, on that day, will hold our own court),” said Mehlab Deen Baloch, her voice full of anguish, at the Karachi Press Club.
Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch was picked up by security agencies from Khuzdar, Balochistan on June 28, 2009. He was performing his duties in a hospital when security agencies allegedly abducted him. Since then, the victim’s family has been demanding his return, but to no avail.
Mehlab was eight years old when she got to know that her father had disappeared. Now, she is 25, and her life has been a continuous protest. She had spent numerous months at protest camps for missing persons.
This story is not peculiar to Mehlab. It is true for every victim, regardless of what ethnicity they belong to – Baloch, Sindhi or Pashtun. These days abduction is not as common in Pakistan; there was a time, however, when it was the state agencies’ chosen method to silence dissent. Former president General Pervez Musharraf, who took power through a coup, adopted abduction as an unstated policy. Ever since, the Pakistani military establishment has allegedly abducted innumerable people. Now people make jokes about it – if you say something the establishment won’t like, a Vigo car will pop up and pick you up.
While it is an open secret who is responsible for these abductions, key arms of the state or military do not accept that they have abducted people. Major political parties seldom speak about the missing persons issues – they prefer to discuss the topic only when election season is near. In the coming months, therefore, the parties that ignored the Eid protest may suddenly remember the issue of abduction.
Sammi Baloch and her sister have spent 14 years looking for their father
Sammi Baloch, 23, activist and daughter of Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch, spoke to The Wire about her struggle. She did not choose this life; the unkind policies of Islamabad have dragged her and her sister Mehlab down this path.
Sammi was 11 years old when she first heard the word abduction. But why was everyone so upset at home; why was her young mother mourning? She kept saying to herself that someone from the state had abducted her father, and would return him soon.
The days turned into months; months became years. Now, 14 years have passed.
“When I was holding a presser the first time, I was unable to hold a mic as I was so confused and my hands were trembling,” Sammi said, recalling her early days of struggle. “Now I can deliver a speech and this struggle has made me strong to bear the lathi charge and torture by the forces.”
When she and her sister were very young, they did not know who to complain to or what to say. They memorised the words ‘Bain ul Aqwami Idare (international organisations)’.
Support has been hard to come by, she believes, and people’s cold behaviour is etched in her memory. She cannot forget how people avoided her or never responded to her messages asking them to raise their voices for her father. In fact, people still behave the same, she said, when she launched a social media campaign for her father’s release. Those who do support them, she said, often pay the price – like her cousin who was allegedly tortured by the security forces.
“People love talking about democracy, climate change and human rights, but the same circle of people will not talk about us [the Baloch]. They raise their voice for Palestine and Kashmir, but for Balochistan their voices become silent. The reason: the Palestine and Kashmir issues suit the state, and the Balochistan issue is within the state. They only follow the state – not the real spirit of democratic values and human rights,” she said.
She is sad that her struggle has not led to her father’s release. If her father had been picked up in 2023, not in 2009, she would have led a movement differently, she said, as she understands more now than she did as a girl who was 11 years old.
“We are alone in a fight for justice, other victims’ families who share the same anguish are our strength and we support each other. Sorrows and struggles connect us more than any [familial] relation,” she said.
Sammi lashed out at the judicial system, saying that judges who collected their salaries from the state would hardly go against the system. Despite knowing the system, the kin of the Baloch missing persons approach judges with the hope that one day they will get justice. “The fact is, we know that it is impossible – justice for the Baloch,” she said.
The Eid protest
On Eid this yeat, there were two countries in Pakistan. One was celebrating and posting pictures on social media, and another was protesting in different cities of Balochistan and Sindh and demanding the release of missing persons. “Bring back our missing Eids,” read one poster at the protest.
Inaam Abbasi, a leader of the Sindh Sabha organisation, said that both provinces of Sindh and Balochistan had suffered and their natural resources had been stolen. He appreciated Baloch women and children who joined the protest on Eid.
Qazi Khizr of the Pakistani Human Rights Commission said that the state should not be expected to offer garlands when the state is involved in the disappearance of its citizens.
Saeeda Baloch, whose father Abdul Hameed Baloch was abducted in 2022, said that at first, the commission on missing persons was denying considering her father as a missing person case. After much struggle and about two years, the commission informed her that they would add her father’s case to the list of missing persons.
“Baba, you were wrong when you believed that people who committed mistakes were abducted. In Pakistan, every citizen is being abducted,” she said at the Eid protest.