John Solecki: a victim of apathy?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: Having previously extended its deadline three times, the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF) – which abducted the American head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), John Solecki – has now given a new, ‘final deadline’ to the government to meet its demands for the release of the UN official.
With the deadline expiring today (Thursday), Nawab Khair Baksh Marri’s son, Nawabzada Harbiyar Marri – who has been authorised by the BLUF to work as a mediator between the government and the Baloch nationalists – has formed a 13-member committee to facilitate the release of Solecki, on his behalf.
With Harbiyar abroad, the committee would analyse a list of missing/kidnapped people the BLUF wants released in exchange for the freedom of the UN official, who was abducted on February 2 while on his way to work.
The UN’s Islamabad office said on Wednesday, “We are very concerned about the apparent deterioration of John’s health, as reported by the group holding him. The UN is keen for John to receive immediate professional medical care in a clinic or hospital where necessary medical tests can be carried out. The swift delivery of medical help is important. John’s well being is the responsibility of the group that is holding him, and we hope they are taking steps to make sure John remains well and is not suffering.”
Observers, however, believe that conflicting guesstimates about the abductors and the location where Solecki is being kept could further jeopardise his life. Maj General Saleem Nawaz – the inspector general of the Frontier Corps (FC), who does not have the constitutional mandate to comment on affairs related to police – has blatantly singled out the Baloch Republican Party’s (BRP) Bramdagh Bugti for allegedly masterminding Solecki’s abduction.
Bramdagh, 28 – a grandson of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti – has emphatically denied the charge. “Kidnapping our guests … is contrary to Baloch traditions,” he has said.
Meanwhile, Balochistan police chief Asif Nawaz has made a claim that contradicts Maj Saleem’s assertion, saying an investigation indicated that Solecki may have been kidnapped by Marri tribesmen.
Analysts say that the two top officials’ comments indicate that police and the FC are trying “cover up to their failures by pointing a finger at the Marri and Bugti tribes, in the absence of evidence to back their claims”.
Almost 45 days have passed since Solecki’s abduction, but not a single official has so far addressed a press conference to announce the progress made so far to secure the release of the ailing UN official. Observers say the Balochistan government and Islamabad have up till now not taken the task ‘very seriously’. It is difficult to see the BLUF’s demands being met in the immediate future, they say.
No matter who kidnapped Solecki, observers say the government cannot absolve itself of the primary responsibility of protecting all those in Pakistan’s territory.
At the outset, the government pilloried the BLUF’s demands, branding them unrealistic and exaggerated. At the same time, the UNHCR began a series of meetings with top Baloch politicians and elders to request them to coax the kidnappers into releasing Solecki. A UNHCR delegation also called on Khair Buksh Marri, 90 – the head of Marri Baloch tribe – three times to get him to issue an appeal in the media to secure the safe release of Solecki. But the tribal elder refused to help and disassociated himself from the BLUF.
The only positive achievement of UN’s backdoor diplomacy so far is that the BLUF has agreed three times to extend its deadline.
Also, some observers say Solecki’s abduction is a reflection of Washington’s indifference towards the safety of its citizens working abroad. So far, the UN – not the US government – has been campaigning for Solecki’s release.
Political pundits say Solecki would not have been get kidnapped had the ordeal of Zarina Marri – a 23-year-old Marri schoolteacher who is reportedly in the custody of the army and is an alleged victim of ‘sexual harassment’ – not been reported in the media.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) quoted a person who had met the missing schoolteacher in a ‘Karachi torture cell administered’ as saying that Zarina had complained of being sexually harassed by her captors.
Not all the Baloch political and tribal forces endorse the kidnapping of Solecki. But at the same time, they also back the BLUF demands. They insist that although Solecki’s abduction is an ‘immature act’, the government must release all the missing Baloch citizens.