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Balochistan: The Ignored

Balochistan: The Ignored

 Citizens of Balochistan protesting the election results

Photo Credit: Facebook


Balochistan – the province comprising some 44 percent of the entire land mass of Pakistan and merely five percent of the population, it is possibly the most ignored province in Pakistan. Balochistan remains the poorest province, while also the most naturally rich with massive oil and gas reserves.

Like in the rest of Pakistan, the elections held in Balochistan on May 11, were not as free and transparent as was hoped.  Most polling booths in Balochistan saw barely 30 percent voter turnout.  Dawn News, a daily English paper, reported that polling was disrupted or could not take place at all at a number of polling stations because of lack of staff and/or balloting material. Militants had also announced that they would impede the election process; the moderate nationalist parties that contested did so in face of this threat. Citizens of Balochistan are protesting that elections were rigged and therefore, the representatives aren’t really their representatives. Why? Because their issues will not be addressed.

Balochistan’s Issues

Akhter Mengal is the head of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) – a party comprised of nationals who have been clashing with the Government of Pakistan for increased royalties from natural resources and provincial revenue, and in some cases full secession. Last year Mengal gave his “six points” (which he equated with the points presented by Bengali leader Shiekh Majibur Rehman – which led to the partition of Pakistan and Bangladesh) that he said the government ought to fulfill before the  BNP would consider dropping their call for a separate nation:

  1. End all military operations in Balochistan.
  2. Produce “missing persons” in court.
  3. “Death squads” of the ‘ISI and MI’ be disbanded.
  4. Intel agencies stop harassing Baloch political parties.
  5. Persons responsible for crimes against humanity be tried.
  6. Displaced Baloch be rehabilitated.

“Why should not we divorce peacefully rather than seeking for a bloody divorce if the rulers have decided to keep on giving us mutilated dead bodies,” Mengal told the Supreme Court of Pakistan in September, last year.

The Case of the Missing Persons  

Before the 1980s, the phenomenon of enforced disappearances was relatively unheard of in Pakistan. In the ’80s,  a large number of Pakistanis joined the “jihad” in Afghanistan, most volunteering but a large number forced, unbeknownst to their families. Those forced, were students of Madrassah’s in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa who were given marching orders by the managers of their seminaries. These were the “missing persons.” Some cases were reported to the U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID), but no serious attention was paid because of the general support the jihad in Afghanistan enjoyed in Pakistan.

It was post-9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that the cases of involuntary disappearance started causing public anxiety. From 2000, the media started reporting the disappearance of Pakistanis (including the famed case of Dr. Afia Siddiqui) some, the families of the victims would later learn, were detained in U.S. base at Bagram in Afghanistan. These are Pakistan’s disappeared – men and women who have been abducted, imprisoned and in some cases tortured by the country’s intelligence agencies. Some who later returned, testified that they were interrogated in the presence of foreigners, who human rights officials and lawyers suspect to be by U.S. intelligence agents. Although the U.S. has acknowledged the phenomenon of missing persons in Pakistan, they have remained silent, on Washington’s involvement.

“The victims were accused of collaborating with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban and could easily be branded terrorists, a label that virtually deprived them of their right to liberty or due process,” explains Mr. I.A. Rehman, Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Whether or not they were really terrorists, was uncertain. This uncertainty was only questioned when people started disappearing from Balochistan in 2005 and 2006. Why then? Because Balochistan was known to have no pro-Taliban activity.   The first set of victims from Balochistan comprised of nationalist students who were known to be campaigning for their people’s democratic rights.

By the end of August, 2012, the Baloch organization, Voice of the Baloch Missing Persons, said it had documented 1,300 cases of missing persons from Balochistan alone. Some of these missing were no longer missing as their bodies, mutilated, showing horrible marks of torture, were found on street sides. Not all those who are missing have ties to Baloch political movements, but none have had a free trial to allow them to prove this.

The Stories of the Missing Baloch  

A couple of months ago, I heard writer Muhammad Hanif speak to an almost-full audience at the Lahore Literature Festival about a small collection of stories he had compiled with the help of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The booklet was called “The Baloch who is not missing, and others who are.” Hanif had interviewed six people about the “missing persons” from their family. That day in Lahore, Hanif told his audience that as a meticulous writer, he appreciated the need for repeat edits of his own work. He said this was one piece of work he could not edit, because it was too painful to revisit. The first of Hanif’s stories can be read here as it was published in Dawn.

In 2010 the Supreme Court of Pakistan suggested the creation of a special commission dealing with cases of missing persons. Although the commission only held a brief tenure of some six months, they were able to trace 134 people. The Supreme Court continues to hear cases and work towards finding out where these people have gone and why they were taken, but progress is slow.

What Now?  

Pakistan is not like any democracy in the world. It has, for the first time in its 66 years of independence, managed to pass governance from one democratically elected civilian regime to the next, but does that mean that all will be represented?   Hanif, writing for The Guardian, puts it best:

“Who needs a federation when you can have so much more fun doing things your own way. So in the post-election Pakistan, Khan will rule the north and shoot down American drones while discussing Scandinavian social welfare models with the Taliban. Sharif will rule in Punjab and the centre, try to do business with India and build more motorways all the while looking over his shoulder for generals looking at him. In the south, Bhutto’s decimated People’s party will keep ruling and keep saying that folks up north are stealing its water, destroying its social welfare programmes and secular legacy. And, in Balochistan, Farzana Majeed will keep waving her missing brother’s picture.  

Do these bits add up to a country? They do, if you are sitting in Islamabad and showing off your nuclear weapons to the world or planning a motorway to central Asia. But if you are an old woman waiting for her 2,000-rupee welfare cheque or a student activist in a military dungeon waiting for your next interrogation session, you are not likely to dream of motorways and new airport.”



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.