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- Thursday, March 14, 2013 - From Print Edition

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recently published a booklet titled ‘The Baloch Who is Not Missing and Others Who Are’. It contains stories of Baloch missing persons and what their families are going through, vividly explained by renowned author Mohammed Hanif. The stories are very powerful and brought a whole auditorium to tears during a session at the Lahore Literary Festival recently.

Mr Hanif lamented the lack of coverage of this important issue in the media and related an anecdote of the time when Tahirul Qadri’s march was dominating the headlines while the Hazara community of Quetta was mourning the death of family members lost in an act of terrorism.

The debate on missing persons is complicated, to start with. Court cases of missing persons have been heard by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and protesters have staged sit-ins in Islamabad and other cities of Pakistan.

The chief justice of Pakistan has repeatedly rebuked some of the top brass of the Frontier Constabulary and intelligence agencies, considered to be responsible for illegally detaining and torturing people in Balochistan. Some people have been released as a result but more needs to be done in that regard.

The issue of ‘missing persons’ in Balochistan is highly controversial, divisive, and extremely confusing for anyone trying to make sense of it. Depending on which source you follow, the numbers vary wildly from around 600 to nearly 23,000. Now such a wide range of claims, numbers, and the extreme difficulty to verify even a small fraction of such claims defies basic logic.

On January 1, 2011, the commission on enforced disappearances reported a total of 138 cases of missing persons. From Jan 1, 2011 to Feb 28, 2013, the commission received 861 new cases, increasing the total number of cases of missing persons to 999, out of which 378 cases have been disposed off. Thus, the current balance of cases under investigation is 621.

In April 2012, HRCP itself admitted that the actual number is somewhere between the higher numbers given by Baloch nationalists and the meagre figure that the government wants us to believe.

Amid the outrage over the butchering of Shia Hazaras and the Baloch missing persons, no one has bothered to even notice the ethnic cleansing of ‘settlers’ in Balochistan. Nearly 1200 settlers are estimated to have been killed across Balochistan, mostly in what are referred to as hit-and-run incidents and grenade attacks on their businesses and homes.

According to Balochistan Punjabi Ittehad, some 200,000 people have fled Balochistan since early 2008, when violence against various ethnic groups, excluding Pakhtuns, peaked. Other estimates put the number at 100,000. The first ‘high-profile’ killing in Quetta of a ‘settler’ was of the provincial education minister, Shafique Ahmed, in 2009. It was followed by the killings of school and college teachers, university professors and others.

Punjabis were mostly the target but other ethnic groups were also hit – Urdu-speaking people from Karachi and Hindko-speaking settlers from Haripur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to a report published by Human Rights Watch in December 2010, titled ‘Their Future is at Stake’, “Teachers, professors, and school administrators have found their lives increasingly under threat in Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan. Between January 2008 and October 2010, suspected militant groups targeted and killed at least 22 teachers and other education personnel in the province.

“Militants have also threatened, bombed, or otherwise attacked schools, resulting in injuries, deaths, property damage, and curtailed education for Balochistan’s children and youth. In 2009, government schools were open for only 120 days, compared with around 220 days in the rest of Pakistan. Fearing for their safety, many teachers – particularly ethnic Punjabis and Shia Muslims and other targeted minorities – have sought transfers, further burdening what is already the worst educational system in Pakistan. Since 2008, more than 200 teachers and professors have transferred from their schools to the relatively more secure capital Quetta, or have moved out of the province entirely. Nearly 200 others are in the process of making such transfers.”

The report further noted that “militant Baloch groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) seeking separation or autonomy for Balochistan have targeted Punjabis and other minorities, particularly in the districts of Mastung, Kalat, Nushki, Gwadar, Khuzdar, and Quetta”.

Where is the outrage about this? Are ‘settlers’ less deserving of our attention? This kind of selective outrage doesn’t help the cause of the liberal intelligentsia of Pakistan. No one seemed to notice or protest the brutal killing of Balochistan University’s vice chancellor, Dr Safdar Kayani, lecturer Ms Nazima Talib Mehdi, educationist and philanthropist Dr Fazal Bari, and countless other ‘settlers’ who were educating the very people for whom the militant groups claim freedom.

But the killing of Baloch nationalist scholar Dr Saba Dashtiyari in Quetta caught the attention – briefly – of these very liberals whose understanding of the Balochistan crisis is less than basic. The more someone tries to grasp the complexity of the Balochistan crisis – ethno-nationalist, sectarian, law and order, administrative, political etc – the murkier and confusing the details get.

Understanding the troubles of Balochistan requires an extensive effort to grasp all the competing factors at play, if a better solution is to be found. Catering to the ground realities is the kind of approach that can just maybe help resolve the grim situation in that troubled, vast, and grossly misunderstood part of Pakistan.

The writer is a doctor based in Lahore. He tweets @abdulmajeedabid