A long haul

February 16, 2014

A long haul

More than 20 Baloch marched in to the city recently, seeking the release of their missing relatives, having travelled on foot for the past 109 days, covering approximately 2,000 kilometres.

After spending a night at Thokar Niaz Baig, the caravan resumed the March to reach the Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ) office at Regal Chowk in Lahore to interact with the press. The caravan pushed a trolley carrying photographs of their missing loved ones. The relatives of the missing persons, including women and children, advanced to Islamabad the next day. This is the final destination of the second longest march in the history of the world, barely breaking the record of Mao Zedong’s Long March for the Freedom Struggle in China.

The march drew out only a small segment of students, activists and the civil society members in Lahore. Members of PUJ, Awami Workers Party (AWP), South Asia Partnership (SAP) and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) were seen in the spotlight. A human chain was formed by Baloch students from Punjab University, Forman Christian College and Government College to protect the marchers on their way from Thokar Niaz Baig to the compound of Dyal Singh mansion near Regal Chowk.

The crowd appeared emotionally charged as the Baloch marchers took the stage to perform their national anthem "Ma Chuke Balochani!" (We are the scions of Baloch). The walls of the Dyal Singh mansion were laden with various posters and banners inscribed with slogans like "Stop Baloch Genocide", "UN should take notice of the missing persons" and "We demand truth about our missing Baloch".

"It is with our gas that you light your stoves every morning, yet you hound us with your anti-human policies without realising our basic social, political and economic needs," insisted Farzana Baloch. 

The activists and the left-aligned political parties raised slogans in solidarity with the Baloch marchers and demanded immediate release of the missing persons. A large number of police force was present there but none of the Punjab government officials had showed up to share even a few comforting words with the Baloch marchers.

The Balochistan conflict and the Punjab’s indifference towards the Baloch goes back decades for issues ranging from Punjab’s greater authority and infringement upon Balochistan’s natural resources in the energy-starved country. Top Baloch nationalist leaders Khair Bakhsh Mari, Ataullah Mengal and the late Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo are termed as "angry" by the media further intensifying the misunderstandings between the Baloch and the Punjabis.

The Baloch accuse the Punjab bureaucracy, the military and the establishment for systematically suppressing development in Balochistan and also allege their involvement in the abductions and killings. The previous military operations are seen by them as "colonisation of Balochistan". The Punjab establishment, therefore, tried all possible ways to ignore the Baloch marchers, perhaps scared of being exposed.

"I heard that Lahore’s a big city with a population of millions but I see very few people here," said Farzana Majeed Baloch who was leading the long march along with Mama Qadeer Baloch, titled ‘The Voice of Missing Baloch People’ (VMBP).

She said that this is not the period of the Nazi rule and that we will not be silenced by the torture of the state. Farzana Majeed, whose brother Zakir Majeed went missing in June 2009, added that even if her brother had committed a crime he should have been taken to the court and not to the isolation torture chambers. "We have knocked on all doors for justice but no results have been produced so far. We will continue to fight till we get justice."

"About 18,000 people have disappeared from Balochistan including doctors, engineers and teachers," informed Mama Qadeer Baloch.

Speaking to the media and the rights organisations, Qadeer said that more than 2,000 mutilated bodies had been found. "Their names and photographs will be provided to the UN officials in the memorandum as soon as the marchers reach Islamabad," he said.

Cautioning the establishment, he said that if the state had failed to realise the Baloch’s right to life and if they did not learn lessons from the past, Balochistan might have a similar fate as that of Bangladesh.

I.A. Rehman, Secretary General, HRCP, denounces the inhuman violation of rights in Balochistan and pledges his full support to the cause of missing persons.

Mohammad Tahseen of SAP condemns the role of the Pakistan army and agencies which are allegedly involved in the abductions and killings of the Baloch. "People from all provinces in Pakistan should have marched to Balochistan in solidarity with our Baloch brothers," he comments, talking exclusively to TNS.

Shazia Khan of AWP saluted the Baloch marchers and said that their long march had given rise to new political possibilities in the country.

The largest number of disappearances in Pakistan has been reported in the province of Balochistan. Target killings and abductions are extensive. Mutilated bodies of the missing persons have started turning up in huge numbers lately.

Further aggravating the situation, a mass grave was discovered unearthing 15 decomposed and mutilated bodies in Khuzdar district of Balochistan. Investigation and DNA samples have confirmed that the bodies were of those who had been missing for long.

"The state authorities have contentiously usurped our natural resources," insisted Farzana Baloch. "It is with our gas that you light your stoves every morning, yet you hound us with your anti-human policies without realising our basic social, political and economic needs."

In 2005, an operation launched in Balochistan which claimed Nawab Akbar Bugti’s life made the situation miserable for the Baloch, and the sectarian violence that broke out after the newly formed government in 2008 only fanned the flames.

At that time, the VMBP was created to peacefully protest the abductions of their families and to prevent the reoccurrence of large-scale human rights violations in Balochistan.

After their futile attempt at hunger strike and Supreme Court’ failure to pressurise the military to produce evidence in the courts in August 2013, Mama Qadeer Baloch, Farzana Baloch and other members of the VMBP started the march on foot from Quetta on October 27 last year. They first travelled a distance of 700km to reach Karachi in 27 days. After a protest demo outside the Karachi Press Club, they began the second round of their march in December, arriving in Lahore only recently where they were warmly welcomed by the PUJ and different rights organisations.

Qadeer said that his son Jalil Reqi Baloch, who was the member of a nationalist party called the Baloch Republican Party, had been abducted from his house in daylight. "A few months later, I received my son’s mutilated body. It was not easy to inform my seven-year-old grandson Burogh Baloch who is accompanying us in the march, about his father’s death; he is born with a heart condition.

"The moment he saw his father’s dead body, he asked me, ‘What will I do now?’ I told him, ‘You shall hate the army as much as you can!’"

Farzana Baloch, a university student who has left her studies in order to join the march and demands the safe recovery of her abducted brother, said on the occasion that her brother Zakir Majeed Baloch, a member of a student organisation named BSO-Azad, was abducted in June 2009 and she does not know if he is alive. "From health obstacles to threats and severe weather conditions to risk of life, we have had to bear with all sorts of problems in trying to reach Lahore," she said.

"We were warmly received by the Sindh nationalists but the moment we entered Punjab, Mama Qadeer started receiving threats, apparently from different agencies. We were stopped in Multan and barred from proceeding further until some human rights organisations intervened.

"We lost two of our companions in a pre-planned killing episode which was presented as a truck accident in Punjab," Farzana added.

Despite all hazards and threats, the 70-year-old Mama Qadeer Baloch headed to Islamabad, leading the group of marchers who would camp outside the UN office begging for justice.

During their one night stay in Lahore, they were hosted by the Baloch Ittehad Pakistan’s Chairman Danish Baloch.

"We have no expectations from the state, the military and the judiciary but we have high hopes from the United Nations and other international human rights organisations that we are currently in touch with," said Mama Qadeer. "These organisations have warned the Pakistan establishment on taking strict actions."

A long haul