Family members and friends lost connection with Sarfaraz Ahmed, 20, a student at the Department of Psychology of Peshawar University, at the midnight of Feb 13, this year.
Sarfaraz was expected in Dera Ghazi Khan (D.G. Khan), a Baloch-dominated city in Punjab, by 11:00 am the following day to spend time with his student friends. He never showed up.
“Since 11:00 pm that night, his phone has been switched off. We don’t know why and where he is,” claim his friends.
No one knows where he is. But the incident bears all the hallmarks of an act of enforced disappearance. Family members and friends believe that he has been picked up and disappeared by security forces like hundreds of other young students from Balochistan, the mineral–rich but the most backward province of Pakistan.
His friends have searched for him at hospitals, police stations, transport offices, and asked every related person in Peshawar and D.G. Khan. No one has a clue.
“Some time on Saturday, Feb 15, text messages were delivered to his number but no reply came from him. His phone locations are traced to Quetta, Balochistan. They might want him to be investigated by local officers because he belongs to Balochistan,” a friend of Sarfaraz told me in a text message.
Sarfaraz, the only son of his parents, is a local of the Teertéj village in Awaran district of Balochistan. The district became under a complete siege of Pakistan military just after a devastating earthquake in the region in 2013. Since then, the region has been experiencing all kinds misfortune, such as military offensives, enforced disappearances, killings and dislocation of the local population.
Due to a decade-long conflict between Pakistan military and the armed Baloch nationalists, all civic and educational activities are severely affected in the region. The only two inter-colleges and a number of high and primary schools in the district have been converted into military barracks.
Balochistan’s students, like Sarfaraz, travel to other cities of Pakistan’s to pursue higher education. But they often become target of military and intelligence agencies on the suspicion of having connection with Balochistan’s armed groups and nationalist students’ organizations.
Many Baloch students have been targeted for their kinship with Baloch political and social rights activists. Several students and teenage family members of Baloch political figures were picked up by the Sindh Rangers in Karachi on October 28, 2017.
Sarfaraz family members suspect he might also have become a target for this reason.
I have known Sarfaraz since he was a child. I always found him very quiet and peaceful. His only sin, which qualifies him for a target, is his kinship with some political and social rights activists in Balochistan. A number of his relatives have been killed by the military and Sunni religious extremists. His uncle Bakhtiyar Ahmed is one among them. He was killed in August 2014.
His elder sister was a student of women studies at Karachi University. She had to leave the university for security reasons.
After receiving the first text message regarding his disappearance, I knew he had become a victim of enforced disappearance and would not get released soon. But I was asked by his family members not to make his case public for a few days.
“His mobile phone’s battery might have been died, and he has got lost and would contact us once he gets somewhere,” his family members hoped.
Hope died when he did not come back days after days. Now it has been over two weeks. No one knows how many weeks, or months, or even years, it will take him to return to his family. Or will he ever?
Lateef Johar is a human rights activist based in Canada. He is the Deputy Coordinator, Human Rights Council of Balochistan. He regularly comments on the situation in Balochistan