“My father was talking on the phone, when a group of men suddenly came and started kicking and beating him up. All this happened in the blink of an eye and then they whisked him away. I and my uncle (the latter was just 13 then) were left completely shaken,” recalled 10-year old Ali Haider, while narrating the tale of how his father Ramzan Baloch was picked up.
Belonging to Awaran’s tehsil Mashkay, that witnessed a massive earthquake on Sept 24, he is the youngest member of the marchers, who reached Karachi, last month, covering almost 700 kms on foot, from Quetta, to demand the recovery of their relatives.
Ramzan Baloch ran a small shop in Gwadar, where he provided ironing services. “He was picked up by the agency people, from Zero Point, while we were waiting for a bus to take us to Gwadar, three years ago, on July 14, 2010,” said Haider.
The bus-ride without Haider’s father, for the two young boys, speechless and traumatised, surely must have been the longest journey they must have undertaken. “I didn’t cry once,” Haider said bravely, adding: “I just told myself he will come back tomorrow!”
Three years later, both the boys dropped out of school. Haider tags along the older protestors of the Voice of the Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) and his uncle, now 16, is the only breadwinner and has taken over his older brother’s job of ironing.
He has little choice, there are seven mouths to feed.
Qadeer Baloch, who founded the VBMP, has meticulously been recording the 18,000 something Baloch nationalists which include doctors, professors, politicians and students, who have been abducted since 2001. “We have received mutilated corpses of 1,500 of them. And the way they have been tortured, even you’d be ashamed to call yourself a Pakistani,” he said, looking unblinkingly.
When his own son Jalil Reki’s bullet-riddled body surfaced two years back on Nov 2011, he took Reiki’s five-year old son, Byorgh Baloch, to see his father’s corpse and told him who “killed his father and to take revenge when he’s a grown man.”
Little wonder then Ambreen Agha, a research assistant with New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management, terms the saga of the Baloch missing “barbaric”. She refuses to accept it as a counter-insurgency measure.
“Enforced disappearances happen all over the world, but there is a striking difference between what happens in Pakistan and the rest of the world. I believe that the truth of these disappearances and the subsequent kill and dump operations carried out by the state agencies or its proxies, never sees the light,” said Agha.
Haider’s sister Samina Baloch, 14, and their father’s sister Gul Saba, 13, have also dropped out of school. Both have joined the marchers. “My heart feels lighter when I am with these people,” she says. “At home the air is thick with grief. All my mother does is cry and pine for my brother,” said Gul Saba, her eyes reflecting the tragedy.
But it is the precocious Haider who holds your attention. He makes a face and frowns with distaste when he talks about Pakistan calling it a “kachra”, rubbish country and of which he doesn’t want to be part of. To him “agency” is an entity that “picks people” for money.
Asked why the agency picks people up, he comes up quickly with an answer: “They pick up people who want freedom and raise their voice against injustice,” is the young fellow’s understanding of the state’s premier intelligence outfits.
Farzana Majeed, 29, who had been listening to the conversation, interjects: “This is what is happening in Balochistan; children as young as five, are talking like this!”
Majeed, is one of the protestors, whose life has been on hold since her brother, Zakir Majeed, a student leader, was picked up four years ago from Mastung. “They are destroying young minds, keeping them away from education and making them hate this country,” Majeed said, who has a double masters’ degree in biochemistry and Balochi language.
She, like the rest, insisted that if the courts find her brother has committed a crime, she will be the first to accept the verdict happily, “But to silence all dissenting voices like this is cruel”.
She was referring to the mutilated corpses that continue to turn up – “We are told by those who go and identify their loved ones of the barbaric way their life have been snuffed out – with skulls drilled, eyes pulled out from sockets, limbs snapped or sliced.”
Ali Haider walked for 27 days because he thought when he’d reach Karachi, his arduous journey of protest would melt even the hardest of hearts. But despite promises from the hurriedly appointed Interior Minister, Khwaja Asif – who claimed that “738 missing persons have been located” and that the issue “is our responsibility and now it would not take years or months but a matter of a few weeks” and even promised they would be recovered before Dec 10 – Haider’s march is far from over.
He is ready to now take on the 1,500 km route to Islamabad. “I don’t know if anyone is listening, but my voice is reaching out, I know,” he said courageously.
Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan feels the march to Islamabad is a good step. “It will get them more projection,” she said.
But despite assurances from the interior minister, Qadeer Baloch, who has attended more than 90 court hearings in the last four years is now fed up with the judiciary and the CJP, about whom he said, “his support stretches to just words”.
He has little hope of justice being meted out to them by either the judiciary or the present government.
“They are right to be sceptical,” concedes Yusuf. “The new chief justice won’t make much difference as the current one has been very vocal and aggressive on the issue, with little to show,” she added.
Even Agha felt that while “the issue will remain a burning one, no matter how many CJs come and go”, and the summoning of Frontier Corps and Military Intelligence by the Supreme Court of Pakistan may be a “positive development”; at the same time, “no action would be taken against the forces responsible for the atrocities on Balochs.”
Even Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had remarked on Nov 29, while hearing the missing people’s case that both the federal and Balochistan governments seemed helpless before the FC. He had further added caustically that the FC was running the government affairs.
According to the HRCP chairperson, the civilian governments have not been able to exercise authority over the military which sees Balochistan as a “security problem”.
“It’s only when the military establishment decides not to pick up people and release those in their custody, will we see a difference.” she concluded.