On 8 June, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) group staged a protest in front of the Quetta Press Club to mark the annual Baloch Missing Persons’ Day. The event was a scene of great sadness, with much wailing on the part of the siblings and mothers of the missing persons. Some members of the public also joined in to show solidarity with the aggrieved families.
Some families of Baloch missing persons made their appearances and narrated heart-wrenching stories, which are making the rounds on social media. One of the voices was of a Baloch girl called Haseeba Qambrani, one of whose brothers had been picked up some time ago by the security forces and was returned as a dead mutilated body. Another two of her brothers have been missing since 14 February 2020. She fears that they may also be tortured to death.
Qambrani said, ‘In other countries, the government supports their youth, but our brothers, for the education of whom we sisters starve ourselves so that they could make the nation proud, have become targets of a witch hunt. I demand an immediate release of our brothers.’ At the occasion, the Chairman of the VBMP, Nasrullah Baloch, said that enforced disappearances were unlawful under the Constitution of Pakistan, and if any Baloch youth had committed any mistake, the law should take its course.
The protest did not make the mainstream print and electronic media due to sanctions, declared and undeclared. Nevertheless, it is a pity that the Pakistanis who are disposed to empathise with George Floyd – who lost his life to police brutality – are silent on the local reality of the missing Baloch.
Qambrani voiced three main concerns. First, every second home in Balochistan has been afflicted with a missing person and receiving a disfigured dead body has become a norm. Second, every third home in Balochistan lived under the fear that the security forces could pick up their male family members at any time, whether or not a shred of evidence existed against them. Third, as a result, the distressed families had been plunged into unhappiness and mourning.
It is known that many Baloch, especially the youth, nurse a grievance against the State. The solution lies in addressing that resentment, and not in whisking away disgruntled Baloch youth to dungeons. The issue of missing Baloch is a blot on the civilised face of Pakistan.
In 2005, Baloch politicians such as Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri came up with a 15-point agenda on the autonomy of the province to reconcile differences between Baloch dissidents and the Centre. Unfortunately, however, under the regime of General Pervez Musharraf, Bugti was killed in Balochistan in 2006. Marri was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. The killings marked the beginning of the socio-political grievances of the Baloch against the State.
In November 2009, Pakistan’s Parliament approved the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package. The objective was to win over the hearts and minds of the Baloch by trying to redress their two main grievances. The first was the sense of deprivation owing to historical neglect, which had caused rampant poverty in the province. The second was the sense of exploitation from the utilisation by others of the natural resources of Balochistan. That sense of exploitation grew among the Baloch, especially among youth living in rural tribal surroundings. Both factors contributed to the anti-government feeling among Baloch youth, whose circumstances were also misused by certain local politicians to bolster their local provincial domains against the Centre. The package was an admission that injustices had been meted out to the Baloch. Nevertheless, in its implementation, the package did not make any headway, either financially or politically. The Eighteenth Constitutional Amendment of 2010 did improve the situation as far as the issue of provincial autonomy was concerned, but did little to help Baloch youth, especially those living in rural areas.
It is known that disgruntlement has been brewing in Balochistan. Political manoeuvring to influence the outcome of elections exacerbates the situation. On 8 June, no elected representative from Balochistan showed up and expressed solidarity with the protestors. No representative of the Balochistan Assembly expressed an intention to raise the matter in the legislature. No politician cared that 8 June marked a day of deprivation of Baloch rights. No mainstream media outlet offered a voice to the protestors. It was suppression all around.
Blaming other countries for the dissidence and disaffection in Balochistan is a lame excuse, including the ruse that the Baloch indignation is a counterstroke of Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. It simply means that the Baloch are bearing atrocities and tolerating oppression to enable a foreign policy cause: Pakistan’s Kashmir policy. The migrant Kashmiris settled in Pakistan would not want complete Pakistani ownership of the State of Jammu and Kashmir at the cost of Baloch grief and blood. Another excuse used is Pakistan’s China policy, as it works to promote the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The point is simple: if the Baloch remain displeased and neglected, not only will Pakistan’s Kashmir policy be a failure, but Pakistan’s China policy will also experience frequent setbacks. Pakistan is missing the vital point that any deep-rooted local dissatisfaction is bound to incur international condemnation. Islamabad should listen to Haseeba Qambrani Baloch.