Sameer Mehrab

A Baloch New Year’s resolution: not to get whisked away

Now that the New Year is upon us people around the world are coming up with new resolutions:  losing weight, quit smoking or go to a world tour. But these resolutions are for normal people.  For us, the people of Balochistan, a New Year’s resolution would sound something like this: how to not get abducted, tortured and killed, or how to dodge security forces.

There is another group of people who are peculiar because of the fact that their loved ones have already been taken away by Pakistan’s security forces. Some of them are protesting for years and in some cases for decades. Some want courts to hold law enforcement agencies responsible for what they are doing.

The agencies, as usual, deny any involvement in forcible disappearances and kill-and-dump. The judge, just to keep the faith of the missing person’s family members, would scold some irrelevant police officer because the Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) personnel will not appear before civilian courts. They have more important matters to attend like abducting people, torturing them and then murder them in custody because they are the “enemies of the state”.

Most of the Baloch population falls under this category. How else — but to eliminate the enemies– can someone expect the intelligence personnel to protect the country from low-life political dissidents, good-for-nothing liberals and members of the Baloch Students Organization?

Even if they find the time to appear in front of civilian courts and explain the unpleasant requirements of their job, no civilian can understand their passion. Most Pakistanis understand this and they don’t expect the country’s armed forces to be answerable for their glorious deeds. From judges to politicians, everyone does. If someone cannot comprehend this simple fact, they are the ones who call themselves the victim’s friends or family members. They insist their loved ones were whisked away in front of their eyes. From homes, bazars and universities. By, supposedly, their own country’s own armed forces.

Their demand is simple: produce our loved ones, try them in a court if they have committed any crime. Some even offer to personally hang their missing loved ones if they were found guilty in a court, nonetheless they should have access to the justice system.

The security forces and intelligence agencies are well aware of this trick. There will be judicial proceedings, police investigations and eventually the person is released for lack of evidence. Lack of evidence should not be the basis to let free someone who might be an anti-state or may turn into an anti-state once released. State security cannot be left on wishful thinking.

That’s the reason every petition, every protest in front of press clubs and every plea to the international community go into deaf ears. I think the international community also understands that states cannot be run on wishful thinking and with high moral values. So they turn their back when it comes to Pakistan’s human rights abuses, extrajudicial murders and thousands of enforced disappearances committed in Balochistan.

Pakistani state pays them back well. It scratches their back when need be. It all works very well for everyone, except for the families of Baloch missing persons. They don’t understand how states work. They cannot make sense of international diplomacy.

They don’t understand the silence when their mountains were turned into nuclear wastelands by the army in 1998 after exploding a nuclear bomb in Balochistan’s Raskoh mountains.

They don’t understand why they live in abject poverty despite the fact that their land provides more than 45 percent of the energy resources of the country.

They don’t understand why it is necessary for the armed forces to forcibly disappear their loved ones in order to protect Pakistan’s national interests?

Well, simply no one cares about the Baloch. Nationally or internationally. Its doesn’t matter if people from Balochistan go missing for years and decades.

People like Zakir Majeed and Dr. Din Mohammed are now missing for over a decade. When Dr. Din Mohammed was abducted, his kids were very young. Now they are all grown up.

For Zakir’s mother, the last ten years have been an ordeal of fruitless petitions and protests in front of press clubs and courts.

They, like thousands of others, simply cannot be expected to just forget their loved ones since for them they are just not mere numbers or mementos but real persons in flesh and blood. This is how they remember them.

True, they are missing, but they might be alive and should come home soon. It’s hard to convince a mother, daughter and a wife that their loved ones just went disappeared in thin air.

The sate narrative goes on like this: the missing persons have gone to India or Afghanistan on their own and are receiving anti-state training there. From foreign enemies. Ask any Pakistani general, they will say the same. I wonder what sort of training needs over a decade to complete. If RAW wanted to make astronauts out of these missing Baloch, they would have already flown to Mars and returned. They could also have called their homes from Mars.

It all seems very confusing to try to explain why the Pakistani state and its institutions behave extra-judicially and unconstitutionally towards its own citizens. Things get clearer if we see this whole saga in historical context. Throughout the history of colonization if one thing is common among the ruling elites it’s their attitude towards the lives and rights of indigenous people. Their culture and language. This disdain and disregard is common among the colonial masters, or in Balochistan’s case, the heirs of the British empire.

The Pakistani army and its intelligence agencies are content that there will be no consequences of their actions. For the last 20 years, they have abducted, tortured and killed thousands but not even a single culprit has been tried, investigated and punished so far.

Mass graves, containing bodies of dozens of Baloch missing persons, have been found in a number of districts of Balochistan. But no one bothered to ask who killed them. They did not even put on a show of confirming the identity of the bodies. No one wondered how come more than 100 people ended up in one grave. Who they are and what common fate they shared to end up in an unmarked pit.

People in Pakistan know how to not be curious about the wrong things. They will ask a million questions about a politician’s corruption and how everything is going to the dogs because of the civilian misdeeds. But when it comes to questions concerning the human rights crisis in Balochistan, no one likes talking.

If a TV host asks Pakistan’s federal human rights minister Sheerin Mazari about the efforts of the government to recover the missing persons, she will say there is a commission working tirelessly on the issue.

The country’s history tells us otherwise: commissions are a cover-up. Judges and politician know their limits. The issue of missing persons and the affairs of Balochistan are decided by the GHQ single-handedly. These issues are too sensitive to be left for the civilians to decide.

So the families wait and keep waiting. I am just curious what might be this year’s New Year resolution of Zakir’s mom and Din Mohammad’s kids. I am curious for how long Pakistani federal human rights minister, the judiciary, the mainstream media can avoid naming the unnamed.

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Sameer Mehrab is a writer and co-founder of Balochistan Times. He often depicts Balochistan's socio-political dilemmas in his fiction and poetry. He is based in Canada.

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