Riding a motorbike one fine afternoon in Lahore, on January 27, 22-year-old Faizan Haider and 26-year-old Faheem Shamshad breathed their last. Ten bullets fired from a 9mm Glock pistol handed them their death warrant.
Nothing could have prevented all that broke loose in the aftermath. Kudos to Lahore police – for once on time – a Raymond Davis was handcuffed and taken into custody. It had to be the colour of his skin because almost everyone at Qurtaba Chowk saw him commit the crime. There were 47 witnesses – a rare commodity in Pakistan. Flashback to the Shershah Market episode in Karachi: nine self-professed suspects, not a single willing eyewitness.
The same day Davis was whisked away by police officials – amid much television fanfare – two lifeless bodies were found in the Panjgor area of Balochistan. One of the victims, Abid Rasool Baksh was only 17 years old, the other, Nasir Dagarzai, 18. They were reportedly kidnapped from an internet cafe in Hub.
The next morning, Pakistanis woke up with anti-US fever. Some very influential groups got out on the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad – across Pakistan – to burn effigies of the ‘tyrant’, and scream their lungs out against American atrocities. By the third day, it was justice they were crying for; by the fourth, there was a call for barter with the US – Afia do, Raymond lo!
Meanwhile, in London, a relatively small number of people started gathering in Aldwych, braving the cold winter morning. In a calm but forceful protest, these people stood against the senseless killings in Balochistan. Back in Pakistan, we continued to ignite a self-proclaimed war against the US; slogans were pasted across Lahore reading: “Justice for Faheem and Faizan! Hang Davis! Amreeka murdahbad!” With love, Jamat-u-Dawah.
Worldwide, media publications gave out one distress signal after another concerning Balochistan, while the Pakistani media only picked up international stories mentioning Davis. When it was discovered that some US newspapers deliberately held back the true identity of Davis, our journalistic ethics were rocked to the core. Meanwhile, outside the Karachi Press Club, a makeshift shrine full of haunting pictures of missing persons started to house protesters crying out for attention on Balochistan. But the media ignored Balochistan. Ethics anyone?
Contrary to what we may or may not report, atrocities in Balochistan continue. And not a single protest has been recorded for those being shot and dumped for unknown reasons, by faceless, nameless killers. Come February 1 and most of us were mulling over Davis’ diplomatic status. In Balochistan, more bodies were being found. Baluch singer, Ali Jan Issazai, who was allegedly picked up by agencies from a hotel in Quetta a month earlier, was found dead in Khuzdar. Not a whimper from those frothing at the mouth with hatred for Davis. Two days later, three more bodies were found in Khuzdar. The victims were identified as Hamid Issazai, Lal Khan Sumalani and Mir Khan Sumalani. We were still too caught up in the Davis saga to notice.
Support grew for Faheem, Faizan and Ubaid-ur-Rehman, with everyone - from the federal and the Punjab government to television anchors and religious parties – vying for justice. Meanwhile, in Balochistan, children of a lesser God were buried with torture marks and bullet wounds. In most cases, the bodies were not even sent for an autopsy; no FIR was registered and no challan was issued. The trend of young boys being picked up is common in most parts of Balochistan. One such instance dates back to October last year. Seventeen-year-old Jamal Baluch was picked up by unknown men only to be recovered a few days later – fortunately, not dead but paralysed and unable to remember even his own name.
Jamal and many others mysteriously disappear only to be found as lifeless bodies bearing torture marks or disfigured with bullets, dumped in some levies-controlled area of the province. According to Amnesty International, at least 90 Baloch activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers have either disappeared or been murdered in the last four months in Balochistan. Amnesty International says at least 90 Baloch activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers have either disappeared or been murdered in the last four months in Balochistan. it claims most victims were abducted in the presence of others. But unlike those available to testify against Davis, the ‘others’ in this scenario keep a low profile. Justice may come easy in Lahore. And witnesses too. Not in Balochistan.
In the idle banter that ensues Interior Minister Rehman Malik, smells a rat in Afghanistan. Federal Minister Raza Rabbani admits that the Balochistan situation is ‘unfortunately out of control,’ however, he asserts that agencies have no role in the kidnappings. The agencies echo the same stance in the Supreme Court. More than eight thousand Balochis have gone missing since 2000. Odd. Families of victims are twice damned. They are not provided with any information regarding their loved ones and if they highlight their plight, they are threatened with dire consequences.
So, who holds the key to correct information? I believe the truth lies with the same people who have the answers on Davis, Faheem and Faizan. And I don’t mean The Washington Post. Is the Balochistan crisis the effect of a proxy war between the US and China? Or is it the Russian menace? Or the Taliban? Or India? For those who believe proxy wars are the real cause, it’s time to look in the mirror and try to recognise the faces of those who started this trend in the region. In the past, Baloch separatists were the enemy, now moderate Baloch nationalists are the target.
The discovery of two mutilated bodies belonging to members of the Baloch National Movement and Baloch Republican Party have once again, agitated the muffled Baloch voice that is divided over complete independence from Pakistan and more political autonomy and some control over its resources within the existing structure.
If Pakistani media, its religious right, and security establishment-backed analysts feel a moral obligation towards highlighting the atrocities committed by one American in Lahore, why are they silent when it comes to the Balochistan crisis? Are Baloch not Pakistani or Muslim enough to warrant attention? Baloch families are the sole protestors recording an outstanding 205 days of hunger strike. How many more days will it take for us - media, civil society, and sloganeering crowds – to look their way?
The writer works for Geo TV.