By Malik Siraj Akbar
QUETTA: Friends, relatives and co-workers in Quetta and many other parts of the world still await the release of John Solecki. The American head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was kidnapped on February 2nd in Quetta city by an organization called the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF). Appeals have been issued and gotten rejected. Deadlines have been announced as well as extended. Threats have been hurled but never implemented. Assurances were made but to no accomplishment.
Not much seems to have changed since the kidnapping of Solecki. Yet, the missing aid worker’s friends, relatives and well wishers have been resiliently voicing their concern, anguish and helplessness on the internet through social communities like Facebook or different blogs.
Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Richard Bulliet, a former history professor of Solecki at Columbia University, wonders why anyone would kidnap a man who had spent his entire career serving the needs of people in distress under the auspices of the United Nations.
“He is an American citizen, but he doesn’t work for or represent the United States government. John has been moving from one chaotic region to another, not as a soldier or a military contractor, but rather, as a “field man” for the world’s desperate refugees. The refugee camp is his beat, not the field of battle. He does not travel with a bodyguard or shun populated areas.”
Bulliet recalls an old meeting of his with Solecki some years ago: “When he came back from a year’s assignment in Gaza, he showed me a picture of his car. I think it was a Land Rover. It had inch-in-diameter holes in the windows. He chuckled as he explained that they were made by Israeli rubber bullets. I asked him whether he had been frightened. He shrugged and said that that was what a field man has to expect.”
Norah James [named changed on request], a close friend of the missing American, told this scribe that John had been raised with a very positive and embracing view of the world. “He told me that his mother’s response to hearing that he was to work in Quetta was, “Oh I loved Quetta! “.
She insisted that there is nobody fairer, even-tempered than John. Quetta had been a hard post for Solecki since the kidnapped official had hated the security issues which meant he couldn’t walk and be among the people. He was happiest there when buying rugs and on the day of the kite festival, she said.
“This has been torture for everyone who knows John. John is not a strong man. For a person of peace and goodness to be (violently) taken seems not unique there, but it is morally wrong,” she remarked.
Solecki’s co-workers back in Quetta office of the UNHCR still desperately await the return of their affable boss. Many of them are glued with the news channels on the television. Every time, they are hoping to hear some good news. Many of them are depressed as they recall the murder of ‘Lala [brother] Hashim’, their favorite driver [Syed Hashim], who as gunned down when the former was driving Solecki to his office on February 2nd.
The others at the UN office are simply astonished. Nobody is willing to speak as I approaches them for comments. They are scared that a media statement may endanger the life of their ‘boss’ whose captors have been frequently admitting the worsening health conditions of Mr. Solecki.
A Solecki friend back in London, while requesting anonymity, told Daily Times John’s friends were the people through whom situations like the plight of people in Balochistan could gain attention. “Harm to John not only hurts an innocent person who was there trying to help others but deafens sympathetic ears around the world,” he said.
A professional of Solecki from Afghanistan says it is not always easy to speak about a colleague and/or a friend when nothing is known and every day is only bringing more uncertainty. “John is a colleague of mine for whom I have lot of respect. Difficult to tell you more.”
As authorities in Balochistan fail to hunt Solecki’s kidnappers down, many of John’s friends and relatives, some of whom confess not having much interest in politics, say John’s survival is important for the suffering humanity because he has spent 18 years of his life in serving the languishing humanity.
Around 811 people from across the globe have joined a group on Facebook called ‘Prayers for John Solekci.’ The group lists hundreds of people who have never met, worked with or spoken to John. Yet, they all eagerly share information, articles and links to related media reports from any part of the world that brightens the prospects of Solecki’s release. Those members of the group on Facebook who have know Solecki keep recalling their fond memories and the others pray for his safe return.
“John, we are with you! All over the planet, we are with you, and the whole Solecki family!!,” says one contributor.