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.

7 Responses to “John Solecki: a victim of apathy?”
  1. nota says:

    Siraj, Siraj, Siraj: You have got some explaining to do!

    You write:

    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.

    But now I came across this:

    I have the credit to first report the issue of Zarina Marri’s kidnaping, which was buried deep down in the testimonies of Munir Mengal, who faced Pakistan’s gestapo. This was a case of sexual slavery and Pakistan army needed to be put on the mat.

    Now reporting “sexual slavery” as “sexual harrassment” is beyond dishonest, and vice versa. Who am I to believe? You or Mustikhan (I am leaning towads Musti)?

    Mustikhan goes on to add:

    I was also a bit taken aback as Malik Akbar’s report did not mention Munir Mengal’s name at all and in stead referred to him as “a person.” I urge Akbar not fall into the ISI trap and belittle the role of Munir Mengal


    I am also not sure how Malik Akbar said Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri has refused to issue any statement as I had seen a report in the Daily Tawar myself Nawab Marri did indeed issue a statement in favor of Solecki’s release.

    Now that is so, so, so very disappointing….

    (Will be waiting for your answer)

    • gmcmissing says:


      Thank you very much for bringing this into debate. I had read the same entry on Mustikhan’s blog but did not deliberately reply. I have deep respect for Mustikhan’s contributions to the Baloch cause. He is one of the Baloch writers whom I highly admire.

      Let me honestly explain your questions.

      Firstly, let’s be very clear about one thing (I hope you will not accuse me of being defensive) that there is a difference between a blog and a proper newspaper which starts publication only after getting an official declaration from the government of Pakistan. Therefore, we observe self-censorship while applying terminologies. I am still not sure if I softened that term or my copy editor did. But I will still defend it on the basis of my point that newspapers are different from blogs. Yet, the message is clearly delivered even if I call it “sexual harassment” or “ sexual slavery” (given the fact that we work in a country like Pakistan where the military is so deeprooted).

      Secondly, it is easy to criticize the Baloch journalists and politicians while living abroad. People normally do not understand under what sort of intense pressure we work. People take pleasure in adventurous rhetoric. Not many people realize how difficult it is for us, the journalists, to win the trust of the Balochs to make them speak to the media after resurfacing from a long period of disappearance and torture. There are two things: Firstly, we try to protect their identity where we think the story can still go. Secondly, fine Munir Mengal is a brave man and he would not request for his identity to be hidden. Yet, you have to know that such statements could endanger the lives of Ali Akbar, Munir’s brother, or someone else from his family living here in Balochistan. While Munir is in France, let’s not forget that one of the tactics always applied by the agencies is to harass the families of our primary sources. Since the subject of the story was John Soleki and then Zarina Marri, I deliberately deemed it unnecessary to mention Munir Mengal’s name.
      Ahmar disappoints me when he says Malik should not belittle the role of Munir Mengal. This is in fact one of the biggest problems with us. We want to become hero out of everything. We want to have the credit for everything. If Munir Mengal exposed the case then it is no favor of his on the Baloch nation. It was his responsibility. Therefore, he or his supporters should stop hoping that we will sing the praises of Munir before writing anything about Zarina Marri. If you have read my post about Munir Mengal v/s Sheri Rehman, i would honestly tell you I do not trust Munir Mengal as religiously as many people do that. Let me repeat, I am a journalist not an activist. I have respect for the people who stand on thier stance without glorifying themselves.

      I hope I won’t offend any Muslims but let’s not put it this way that we have to read Darood every time you hear the name of Prophet Muhammad. Now Munir Mengal is after all not a prophet whose role would be belittled if not mentioned properly (as offering Darood to his name).

      Thirdly, the statement Ahmar Mustikhan is talking about was not issued by Nawab Marri. It was in fact issued by his son Khairbayar Marri from London with the name of his father. Two men, one from the UNHCR and the other the spokesman of Nawab Marri, who were present in the meeting, confirmed with me that Nawab Marri, in the first meeting, had refused to issue a statement. He had asked the UN officials why they did not approach the Baloch leadership when the Balochs were suffering the most during the operation.

      As far as Mustikhan’s concern about me falling in the ISI trap is concerned, I would like to assure him that ISI does not need to buy the loyalties of an ordinary journalist like me. I come from a middle class Baloch family of Panjgur. ISI has had a history of buying Baloch sardars, nawabs and “middle class educated” National Party leaders. In addition, you must not forget my limitations. I am a journalist working with a newspaper whose owner, Salmaan Taseer, is the governor of Punjab. Therefore, do not expect me to write blog entries in Daily Times. Newspapers have their own policies. If I am singled out and replaced, I would assure Mustikhan you will not then hear this little Baloch voice in the media as well. Have you ever thought what the number of Baloch journalists working in Quetta is? Its almost 10 out of 400 registered journalists of Quetta while barely 4 to 5 of us are granted membership in Quetta Press Club. It is easy to feel that we are falling in the ISI trap without putting yourselves into our shoes.

      CC: Ahmar Mustikhan

  2. gmcmissing says:

    NOTA: Did I answer your questions?

  3. nota says:

    Thanks! You certainly did (except that “sexual harassment” equals “sexual slavery” in the sense that the two are HUGELY different and in no way interchangeable — it’s like equating murder and a little slap on the face.)

    I certainly do not expect you to write a blog on Daily Times(DT) (but would add that I do not expect such huge distortions as mentioned above.) In fact I am appreciative of DT only because they carry your reports (despite the fact that I hate DT and Najam Sethi with a passion, e.g. see here and here)

    That said, I would take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing an excellent job. If it wasn’t for your reports, we wouldn’t know 90% of what is going on in Balochistan. I am amazed that there are some “400 registered journalists” working in Quetta — they must all be getting paid to keep their mouths shut. And that is why I worry about you for I remember Hayatullah Khan and his wife and as Orwell said:
    “Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.”
    (Hayatullah was no “sardar” or “nawab”. His only crime was publishing pictures of a US missile fragment exposing the “official version” to be a lie. More on Hayatullah Khan here. I mention him because I want to remember this atrocity. I mention him because his colleagues have been criminally silent)

  4. nota says:

    BTW: Here is a post about Sethi I wrote on one of my blogs (Excuse the use of strong language)

  5. Mir Ahmed Masuri Bugti says:

    What a shame. Where is the Baloch Culture in the entire act. Please donot tell me thatkidnapping, killing, maiming unarmed people is Baloch Culture.

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