The missing persons of Baluchistan

| March 4, 2013
Photo: http://www.bygwaah.com/

I've seen their silent faces
They scream so loud
If they were to speak these words
They’d go missing too
Another woman on the torture table
What else can they do ?
One day we’ll dance on their graves
One day we’ll sing our freedom
One day we’ll laugh in our joy
And we’ll dance (twice)
Hey Mr. Pinochet, you’ve sown a bitter crop
It’s foreign money that supports you
One day the money is going to stop
No wages for your torturers
No budget for your guns
Can you think of your own mother
Dancin’ with her invisible son?

These lines taken from 'They Dance Alone,' a protest song composed by the English musician Sting and dedicated to the persons who went missing during the reign of terror unleashed by the military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, which also fully depicts the grief and the determination of the mothers, sisters, daughters, sons, wives, brothers and fathers of the persons who have gone missing in Baluchistan like in the southern cone of Latin America in 70's and 80's.

The song is a metaphor referring to mourning Chilean women who dance the Cueca, the national dance of Chile, carrying the photographs of their disappeared loved ones in their hands. The last lines addressed to Pinochet could very well be addressed to the generals of Pakistan army.

In Argentina the missing persons were called Desaparecidos. The people of Baluchistan have their own term for their missing persons: Bygwahiin -- those without any witness. They do not have any witness who can testify to their present status, whether they are alive or dead.

 Those who have gone missing cannot be mourned until the day their mutilated body is found in some deserted place, killed and then dumped by the paramilitary forces and the secret services of the Pakistan Armed Forces. The tragedy which has been unfolding in Baluchistan for the last ten years is the direct result of the license given to the Pakistan Army by the international powers in exchange for the facilitation it provides to them in the so-called War on Terror.

The parents and children of the Bygwahiin have set up a camp in front of the Press Club of Quetta where they protest silently, carrying the portraits of their missing near and dear ones. The Baluch resistance media and the Urdu service of the BBC have been lifting the veil on the extent of the missing persons' phenomenon in Baluchistan, how they are kidnapped and how their mutilated bodies are discovered.

The interviews of the close relatives reported by these media, and the special report of Human Rights Watch on the missing persons of Baluchistan entitled, "We can torture, kill and keep you as long as we like," give a blood-chilling account of the bestiality of the Pakistan security apparatus which should, if justice and impartiality were to prevail, lead to the arraignment of those responsible for these acts before the International Crimes Court.

Saman is 20 years-old and a daughter of one of the Bygwahiin. She is post-graduate student in chemistry at the University of Baluchistan in Quetta. Every day she, on one pretext or other, takes leave from her teachers in order to join the other protesting parents in front of the Press Club.

As she does not want others to know of her identity, she put on a Burqa and silently slips among the wives, mothers and daughters of the other missing persons. Saman does not like telling lies to her teachers but at the same time she is afraid of their reaction if she informed them of the true reasons for her absence.

Saman's father, Dr. Din Mohammad, was a member of the executive committee of the Baluchistan National Movement, a perfectly legal political party which is fighting for the democratic rights of Baluch people and against the arbitrary practices of the security forces. He was a physician in the government hospital of Arnaj near the city of Khuzdar which is about 200 kilometers from Quetta.

In the night of 28 June 2009, about a dozen persons in civil dress descended from two pick-up trucks in front of his house situated within the precincts of the hospital. They knocked on his door. Guessing some foul play, he refused to open the door. It was broken open; Dr. Din Mohammad was tied up and tossed into one of the vehicles. Since then, his family who live in Quetta, is without news of him. All attempts on their part to contact the authorities were fruitless. Thus, one more family was added to the relatives of the other Bygwahiin. The family fears that someday his mutilated body, like many others, will be found in some deserted place. Saman has become so depressed due to this state of permanent tension that she prays to God that, if after all the fate of her father is to be killed, then better it be soon so that the family may be delivered of the constant pain and wait.

In the protest camp, Saman came across another student of the University of Baluchistan, Farzana, whose brother, Zakir, a masters student and activist of the Baloch Students Organisation was kidnapped eight months ago. Contrary to Saman, Farzana does not hide her commitment and her fury. She held a press conference to demand that the whereabouts of her brother be revealed. She went with some other relatives of Bygwahiin to Karachi and Islamabad to stage protests. She has no confidence in the state authorities, judicial system and the political parties of Pakistan. She now reads, among other things, the biography of Che Guevara, the novel Spartacus and dreams of the day when she could take her revenge against the bloody drama which is being staged in Baluchistan.

There are thousands of families in Baluchistan who are mourning their missing relatives. The five year old son of Jalil Reiki, a leader of the Baluchistan Republican Party, at last saw his father three years after he was kidnapped -- but in what shape! During that time his mother consoled him that his father was away in Karachi for some business. Recently, the mutilated body of Reiki was found near the Iranian border. His face was so disfigured that he could only be recognized due to his identity card which was found in the pocket of his shirt. The grandfather made it a point to show Jalil's dead body to his grandson, informing him of the fate that the Pakistani state reserves for the sons of Baluchistan.

Among the Bygwahiin, there is an 80 year-old man who belongs to the Qalandrani tribe. According to his son, he can hardly stand, what to say of wielding a gun. Many other members of Qalandrani tribe young and old were picked up by the security forces because this tribe is suspected of harboring sympathies for the insurgents. The mutilated body of one of the young men, who was a member of the Baloch Students Organization, was recently discovered.

There are also three minors among the Bygwahiin; the youngest one being 12 years-old. He, along with his 14 year-old cousin, was playing in a street when they were picked up by soldiers of Frontier Constabulary -- the dreaded FC -- a paramilitary force headed by Pakistan army officers. The crime of these two children was to have inquired around them about the circumstances of the disappearance of their uncle.

Students are the favorite targets of the security forces. Most of the missing students were members of the Baloch Students Organization. Many of them were picked up from campuses. According to a professor of the University of Baluchistan, he has lost 16 of his students.

In its report on the missing persons of Baluchistan, Human rights Watch has documented 45 cases of forced disappearances, most of which occurred in 2009 and 2010. The kidnappings are usually carried out by armed men in civil dress, driving in pick-up trucks. Witnesses describe them as men of  Pakistan's intelligence agencies -- ISI, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau.

Pakistan's army and its intelligence agencies maintain secret detention centers all over the province. Even though these agencies care little about the social or political status of its victims, their task becomes easier when the victim is a relatively less known person. They keep them in their detention centers for as long as they like. The main detention center called Kuli Camp is situated near Quetta.

Human Rights Watch, in its report, gives a young man's account of torture inflicted on him at Kuli Camp:

I was stripped naked, tied-up and strung to the ceiling. My face was covered and many men beat me up with batons. They had only one question and only one reproach: why you Baloch want independence? When I was finally brought down I could hardly stand and my entire body was covered with blood.

According to Human Rights Watch, the climate of fear prevailing in Baluchistan due to the forced disappearances has become unbearable for the relatives of the missing persons. They are afraid of contacting the authorities for inquiring about the whereabouts of their relatives. They fear that if they did so they will go missing as well.

The exact number of missing persons is not known but the interior minister of Pakistan admitted in 2008 that there were 1102 cases of missing persons in Baluchistan. According to the latest Human Rights Watch report, "the situation of human rights is worsening; the forced disappearances of Baloch activists by the army, the intelligence agencies and Frontier Constabulary are continuing. Pakistan army continues to resist the attempts of the government to reconcile with the Baloch groups and its efforts to locate the missing persons." According to Pakistani press reports, 70 dead bodies of the missing persons have been found between July 2010 and February 2011.

Pakistan has not yet signed the international covenant on the protection of all persons against forced disappearance. Although it has signed the covenant on civil and political rights as well as the convention against torture, it has neither the political will nor the institutional possibilities of implementing them.

Strangely enough, while the international press is so prolix about the terrorist danger against Western countries emanating from Pakistan, silence is maintained regarding the not so secret war waged by the Pakistani military machine against its own people.

The Bygwahiin of Baluchistan deserve the same level of international solidarity as did the Desaparecidos of Argentina and Chile. It is only international solidarity which can make Pakistan accountable in front of international justice.

 

Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage magazine, where this article first appeared. He is a 24-year old student based in Vancouver, Canada, where he goes to Simon Fraser University.

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