Missing persons of Balochistan

Last month, two literature festivals were held in Karachi and Lahore respectively. The Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) and Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) were quite successful at attracting huge crowds.

Mohammed Hanif's new book, ‘The Baloch Who is Not Missing & Others Who Are’, published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), on the ‘missing persons’ issue in Balochistan was launched both at the KLF and the LLF. I missed Mohd Hanif's book launch session in Lahore but was fortunate enough to attend it in Karachi. Hanif’s KLF session was moderated by Baloch nationalist and columnist Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur. Other panellists included Director HRCP I A Rehman and Farzana Majeed, sister of a missing Baloch nationalist.

This particular session was so powerful that many in the audience were literally in tears while others were struggling hard to control their emotions. A few years ago, such an open and frank discussion on the role of the military and its agencies in the province, human rights violations by intelligence agencies and Balochistan’s right to self-determination would have led to sedition charges but not today. The way the audience was intently listening about the plight of the Baloch showed that even if they could not directly relate to the pain of the Baloch, they were indeed moved by these painful narratives. What we heard was a personal narrative of a Baloch missing person’s sister and what her family, and countless other families like hers, had been through. In the chapter titled ‘A Sister’s Vigil’, Farzana is quoted as saying: “Look at me. I am twenty-seven years old. Zakir [her missing brother] is now twenty-five. I have my needs. What kind of life is this? I am spending all my life at protest camps in the hope that they’ll not kill my brother. What kind of life is this?” Farzana’s matter-of-fact questions leave you shaken. She was equally vocal at the session. One could feel the entire Baloch nation’s pain when she described the gross human rights violations being committed in Balochistan by the Pakistani state.

One must read Hanif’s book, which captures the emotional upheaval the families of the missing Baloch are going through. In the chapter titled ‘Looking for Uncle Ali’, his nephew narrates a harrowing tale when missing person Ali’s oldest son got married. “The whole family was together and then someone mentioned Ali Asghar’s name and started to cry. Then everyone started to cry. We all cried for one whole week. Never in my life have I seen so many people crying so much.” A wedding is generally an occasion to celebrate but for the families of missing persons, even a joyous occasion leads to great distress.

As a Pakistani, it will put you to shame what your state is doing in the name of ‘national interest’. While the military inevitably dismisses these accusations, there is no denying the truth. It has happened before in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and it is happening again in Balochistan. The way Pakistan has treated the Baloch is not just inhuman but atrocious, to say the least. The Baloch want to live with dignity but the state has only given them sorrow. Saying sorry is not enough. Either the state should give the Baloch what is rightfully theirs or it should be ready to face the consequences of oppressing the Baloch nation for the past six decades.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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