In Balochistan, almost every day ends with a sad, painful story and dying hopes. Last Sunday, it ended with the news of the passing away of Ilahi Bakhsh, the father of former BSO chairman Zahid Baloch who has been in the illegal custody of Pakistani intelligence for the past six years.
The old man waited all these years to see his son back from the dungeons. His son never returned. And he couldn’t survive the pain. His death has added one more name to the growing list of people who wait for years for their abducted family members before breathing their last. A few days earlier, missing Ghulam Farooq’s mother died. Yesterday, the father of Imran Gurganadi, abducted ten years ago, died too.
They die and their hopes die with them.
The military abducted Zahid Baloch on March 18, 2014. He has not been released despite protests from his family and friends. His disappearance had deeply hurt Ilahi Bakhsh.
Zahid was the head of the BSO, a student body that organizes the youth in Balochistan. It creates awareness about the fundamental rights. The Pakistani establishment doesn’t like this. Therefore, Zahid was picked up.
“It isn’t my son alone,” said Illahi Bakhsh after he was told of the news. “There are thousands of others who have suffered the same fate. But I became tearful. It might be because Zahid is my son.” He said to Karima Baloch, the BSO chief after Zahid. He tried to hide his tears but we saw them and felt them.
The old man knew what happened to most of the missing persons and didn’t have much hope of Zahid’s immediate return. “Did Zakir come back that Zahid will?” He said, giving reference to another BSO leader who has been missing for 11 years. He knew who took Zahid and knew how powerful and ruthless they are. He was a practical man but his resolve was firm.
Some intelligence officials visited and asked him to sign some papers and withdraw Zahid’s case from the courts. He was later asked to give out a public statement against his son’s friends but he refused.
Zahid was my friend and I decided to sit on a hunger strike till death for his release. Ilahi Bakhsh couldn’t visit my protest camp but he called often to ask about my health. My death would be another pain for him and didn’t want that. I was told he prayed for me every day.
I did a 46-days hunger strike in Karachi in 2014. I survived and eventually came to Canada the next year. I submitted Zahid’s case to the UN’s Committee of Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and explained everything in person in Geneva, Switzerland. Still, Zahid has remained missing.
Nothing has worked so far, neither our cries nor the working group’s request to the Pakistani authorities to investigate the issue and find Zahid. That is how the Pakistani army deals with the Baloch. They don’t have even any regard for international laws.
We couldn’t bring Zahid back in Ilahi Bakhsh’s life but let’s keep going and keep hoping all the Baloch missing persons return soon.
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