Pakistan Reader# 122, 20 July 2020
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
For over a decade, families of those who have disappeared in Balochistan have gathered outside the Quetta Press Club demanding answers to who took away their family members. These daily sit-in protests began in 2009 when Deen Mohammad, a doctor was abducted by unknown men. These daily sit-ins sometimes take place with less than a dozen people while on other days many more join, with some families like the doctor's two daughters being among the regulars who have been fighting since the beginning. The voice of missing persons of Balochistan was brought to the limelight when Mama Qadeer, the Vice Chairman of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) started a hunger strike in front of the Quetta Press Club. He then went on to do the same in front of Karachi and Islamabad Press Clubs. To highlight the issue, Mama Qadeer had led a foot march from Quetta to Karachi and then from Karachi to Islamabad. They made history by walking 2500 kilometres against disappearances in Balochistan.
The enforced victims appear to have been targeted because of alleged participation in Baloch nationalist parties and movements. Further, this campaign in Balochistan has sometimes declined but over the last few years, it has intensified. However, this fight has only remained with the province or at max the country, it has seldom drawn international attention. This issue has caused significant harm to families where they live with continuous uncertainty about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones with their lives often completely disrupted by the disappearance. The main demand of these families is that they want answers to who took their family members away, demanding that they are brought back. Further, although they demand that their missing relatives should come back, they say that justice is incomplete without perpetrators being held to accountable. Families for long have tried to reach out to the federal human rights ministry, the military and Balochistan's government, seeking answers to their question; however, they often go unanswered. In 2019, the military issue a statement sympathizing with families of missing Balochs, stating that some may have joined militant groups and that not every person missing is attributable to the state. (Reuters, "Baloch families seek answers as more disappear," Dawn, 20 July 2020)
Issue of Enforced Disappearances in Balochistan
The issue of enforced disappearances have continued despite guarantees from successive governments to criminalize the practice, further, this practice has for long been a stain on Pakistan's human rights record. ("Pakistan: Enduring Enforced Disappearances," Amnesty International, 27 March 2019) The Annual Report published by the Human Rights Council of Balochistan reported that 2019 saw no improvement in the human rights situation for the people in Balochistan. Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, target killings and military operations continued unabated and with impunity. It received partial details of 568 cases of enforced disappearances and 241 killings during the year 2019. ("Balochistan 2019: Military whisked away 568 persons and killed another 241", Hakkpan Annual Report 2019, Human Rights Council of Balochistan, 8 March 2019)
The issues of enforced disappearance are so rampant in the province that every second home in Balochistan has been subjected to a disappearance where receiving a disfigured dead body has become a norm. Further, every other home in the province lives under the fear that the security forces could pick up their male family members at any time, thus leaving many to live in fear and the unhappy. The figure for this year shows that those enforced disappearances are still being reported. Further, amid the pandemic when which made travel and postal communication impossible and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CoIoED) received 70 new complaints. (I.A. Rehman, "Thousands still missing," Dawn, 4 June 2020)
Trouble at the political end
PM Imran Khan committed to criminalizing enforced disappearances. In January 2019, Pakistan's Ministry of Human Rights submitted a draft bill to the Ministry of Law and Justice to criminalize enforced disappearances. Further, the BNP-M and PTI agreed to form an alliance, Akhtar Mengal gave the government a list of 5128 missing persons, since then over 450 of the people on the list have been found or returned to their families, however during the same period Mengal stated that another 1800 were reported to have disappeared adding "If you cannot recover people, at least stop disappearing more people. However, not much was achieved which manifested itself with the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) quitting the PTI alliance, frustrated by unfulfilled promises to address grievances including the festering issue of the disappeared. ("BNP-Mengal parts ways with govt," The Express Tribune, 17 June 2020)
Increasing militancy in the Balochistan
According to the Pakistan Security Report 2019 published by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) for the past few years, much of the militant violence in Pakistan has visibly concentrated in Balochistan. In 2019, Balochistan appeared the most critical area in terms of security challenges. In particular, the violence led by the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) managed 27 terrorist attacks in 2019, including 25 in Balochistan, and one each in southern Punjab and interior Sindh, killing 40 people and injuring 120 people. ("Pakistan Security Report 2019," PIPS, 5 January 2020) In this year the attack on the Pakistan Stock Exchange last month is seen to be the most high-profile attack by the group along with the numerous attacks on security personnel who patrol the area. Further, militants have frequently targeted Chinese construction projects in Gwadar and other Chinese interests in the country.