On August 26, 2006, the Pakistan military killed an octogenarian Baloch nationalist leader, Akbar Bugti. Pervez Musharraf’s regime celebrated to have gotten rid of the “source of conflict” between Balochistan and Islamabad. The Baloch, with posters of the classy old man’s iconic photo in which he is leading the Baloch guerrillas on a camel in the mountains of Balochistan, mourned the death of a “hero” who fought for their rights at an age when he should be waiting for a quiet death.
It was not a quiet mourning though. The protesters burnt down everything they thought could remind them of Pakistan. Banks. ATM machines. Government offices. And vehicles. The country’s flags.
Although almost every Baloch shed at least a drop of tear on the murder, the violent mourners were mostly young men who had born after the 70s, the decade when Bugti helped Islamabad crush a Baloch nationalist rebellion.
All of these violent mourners — mostly students — and those who should have been violently mourning were booked by the police. Thousands of them. In cases of terrorism. And treason.
Three years later, in 2009, when the military initiated a notorious kill-and-dump operation to crush an insurgency they had helped fuel by Bugti’s killing, the names of those violent mourners in the police record was useful to prepare a list for the targets.
Government officers are transferred every once in a while. Those who had booked those young mourners might have known that their violence was a result of a sudden outburst of reaction to the killing of a man they thought was their hero, and that the terrorism charges were just meant to deter them away from mourning any further.
However, the men of secret agencies tasked to prepare the list of targets for the kill-and-dump operation might have not known these facts. Those men didn’t inform anyone – not even the police – that they are going to start an operation in which they will whisk away the enemies of Pakistan, punish them in torture cells, kill them and dump their bodies for their loved ones to find after animals of prey had already fed on them. They searched the police records and saw thousands of names who had committed “terrorism” and “treason” acts against their beloved state of Pakistan. Easy list to make.
Since 2009 and especially since 2010, hundreds of names have been cleared from that list. An unassuming young man travelling to Quetta to resume his studies at the Bolan Medical College after holidays. Whisked away. Tortured. Killed. Dumped. A poet lecturing younger poets at a tea stall in Turbat on modern European poetry. Whisked away. Tortured. Killed. Dumped. And it continued for months and years.
This operation forced hundreds to flee the country and take refuge in the nearby Middle East. But most of them couldn’t afford it. They fled to the mountains to take refuge in the safe havens of Baloch guerrillas (who were not naive enough to go burn a Pakistani flag in the middle of a city in front of TV crews). A time came when armed groups stopped recruiting as there was not enough food to feed the fleeing men.
I visited the UAE for the first time in 2013. Among hundreds who had already fled there, some were my friends. I wanted to see them.
In a room of around three by three meters with a small kitchen inside it and a small attached bath, there lived 9 men. After serving me with water and tea, they fired me with questions about Balochistan as I had been there more recently than any of them. Some wanted to know about the weather. Some about a fallen friend. Some about a marriage. Questions oozing with nostalgia.
Suddenly, one of them complained about constant pain in his left arm. One of my friend questioned him like a professional physician about his pain. He was about to give his opinion on his illness that another friend interrupted. He had another professional opinion on the illness. They were arguing in some technical medical terminology that another permanent resident of the room jumped into the debate.
I realized there were three certified doctors in that room. In 2006, they were senior students at the Bolan Medical College and must have had burnt some things when they were mourning. Before the kill-and-dump operation started, they had already gotten their certificates to practice medicine.
They were jobless people now, trying to prepare for a test which would allow them to practice medicine in the UAE. I knew there was no way they would pass that test if they were preparing for it in that room inhabited by 9 men.
After the three doctors failed to reach a conclusion for the treatment of that man’s illness, one of them borrowed a laptop from one of the tenants– his adept fingers on the keyboard and curious eyes on the screen. Around 10 minutes later, he created some room beside me through his muscle power to show me something.
He literally knew every illegal route that could take him to Europe where he wanted to seek political asylum. He gave me a presentation about all the options, and then asked me about my opinion which one was the safest. I was dumbfound, as I was an illiterate in geography. Today, all the tenants of that room are in Europe. Except for him.
On January 30, when the military killed another Baloch nationalist leader, Dr Mannan Baloch, there was no protest inside Balochistan. But there were protests almost in every major country of Europe and North America. UK. Canada. United States. Germany. Sweden. France. And Australia.
In April, dozens of members of European Parliament met Baloch National Movement leader, Hammal Haider Baloch, who briefed them about Balochistan’s situation. This month, the Unrepresented Nations’ and Peoples’ Organization (UNPO), organized two events on Balochistan in Washington DC where US Congressmen, Senators, a senior Amnesty International official and journalists participated.
“A lot of young Baloch have come to Europe and America in the last few years. And they are lobbying for their cause. These events are a result of their lobbying,” Nasir Buledi, the President of the UNPO, told me.
That list for the kill-and-dump operation made by the men of secret agencies served two purpose. One, making recruiting young men easy for armed groups. Second, helping separatist political groups lobby for their cause at an international level.