By Zia Ur Rehman

November 29, 2013

After traveling from Quetta to Karachi on foot, relatives of Baloch missing persons and their supporters ended a 780 kilometers protest march on November 22.

The rally was led by Mama Qadeer Baloch, vice chairman of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), and included more than 20 women, children and activists. “We will not hesitate to protest against disappearances and extrajudicial killings of Baloch people even if we have to walk to Islamabad and knock the doors of the United Nations headquarters,” he said.

The military has been conducting an operation against separatist groups in Balochistan since 2000. Hundreds of people have gone missing since the operation began, according to reports by human rights organizations and Baloch nationalist parties. They are believed to have been abducted by security agencies. The bodies of some of the missing people began turning up on roadsides, further aggravating the situation.

The Supreme Court has heard cases about the ‘forced disappearances’ and formed several commissions, but failed to push the authorities to either release the victims or hold a transparent investigation into the issue.

Mama Qadeer’s struggle for the recovery of missing persons began in February 2009 when his son Jalil Reiki was taken away allegedly by security agencies. “He knocked every possible door and explored every possible option for the recovery of his son,” he said. His dead body was found in November 2012.

Amongst the marchers is Farzana Majeed, whose student leader brother Zakir Majeed has gone missing. “We want our brothers and sons back home without delay,” she said.

Leaders of the VBMP say more than 18,000 Baloch men have been abducted by security agencies since the killing of prominent Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in August 2006. “Of them, 1500 were teachers and students,” said Mama Qadeer. “Many of them were killed.”

Mama Qadeer Baloch

An official of a Pakistani human rights watchdog group put the number of Baloch missing persons between 800 and 1000. There have been no official figures so far.

Most of these missing men belong to Kohlu, Khuzdar, Mastung, Mashkay and Awaran.

Amnesty International researcher Mustafa Qadri says his organization is extremely concerned that the enforced disappearance of Baloch activists continues despite the election of new federal and provincial governments. “It saddens me personally that the families of the victims have been left so desperate for justice that they have felt compelled to travel on foot from Balochistan to Karachi in the hope of raising greater attention towards this human rights crisis,” Qadri said.

Analysts believe that the march is very significant. Sartaj Khan, a Karachi-based political analyst, believes that the reception of the march in Karachi was outstanding and it highlighted the issue to a great extent. “The significance of the march is manifold. It is a fight for civil liberties and rule of law initiated in the lawyers’ movement in 2007,” he said. “It was the first major protest since the new governments took over in Balochistan and the center,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, a Baloch journalist and author of ‘The Redefined Dimensions of Baloch Nationalist Movement’.

Some analysts say the march is also significant because of its place of origin and destination. After cities in Balochistan, it is believed that Karachi is fast becoming a dumping ground for bodies of missing Baloch persons. “The perpetrators appear to be increasingly targeting peaceful activists, and there have been steady incidents of victims being found dumped dead in the outskirts of Karachi over the last two years,” said Qadri. According to the VMBP, bodies of 25 missing persons have been recovered from Karachi, mainly from Surjani Town and Northern by-pass areas.

The families of the disappeared people seem deeply disappointed with the new government.  Balochistan has traditionally been ruled by tribal chiefs. But for the first time in the history of the province, a middle-class non-tribal politician was elected as the chief minister in June this year. The appointment of Dr Abdul Malik, president of National Party (NP), raised hopes for many. “During the Musharraf era, intelligence agencies abducted Baloch people but released them after six months or a year. During the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, they started killing and dumping their bodies. That practice continues under the government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in center and the NP in Balochistan,” Mama Qadeer said.

Malik Siraj Akbar says the PPP government had at least promised to address the issue, but the governments of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik seem to have accepted the situation “as the new normal”.

Dr Malik has publicly admitted his failure over the missing persons issue. “I have repeatedly raised this issue and highlighted that without resolving it, we cannot proceed any further towards peace talks with rebels. But unfortunately, there has been no progress,” he told reporters in Karachi on October 27.

A member of Balochistan Assembly belonging to the ruling National Party privately admitted that the matter was directly linked with Pakistan’s security agencies and the civilian government or politicians did not have a say in such matters.