Return of the natives
By Malik Siraj Akbar
The government has released at least twenty “missing persons” from different parts of Balochistan. This has come as a follow-up of the recently announced Balochistan Package by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. The PM promised that many of the missing persons would be celebrating Eid with their family members. The total number of lucky ones who managed to meet their family members and added to their Eid jubilations is only twenty.
According to initial reports, the recently released missing political activists include Dr. Dost Mohammad and Shaukat Langov of the National Party. Another two activists of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), Saleem Langove and Organzaib have also been resurfaced. Furthermore, a resident of Noshkai district, Mir Ahmed Bugti, who was picked up earlier in April this year, has reached home too. In addition, around fifteen members of the Bugti tribe have resurfaced and reportedly arrived at their respective homes.
The release of only twenty missing persons is even a welcome move by the government. After all, the issue of enforced disappearances has been a major source of unrest and anguish among the Balochs. Several innocent families have been devastated by the disappearance of their beloved ones. The case of disappearances is very serious for the reasons that the missing persons are not kept in a regular jail or produced before a court of law to be given a dignified legal trial. Their families are barred from meeting them or at least know the whereabouts of their disappeared family members.
The government has, however, committed a strategic blunder by releasing only some of the missing persons. Firstly, it had been in a constant state of denial for many years about the missing Balochs who were allegedly held in the custody of the intelligence agencies. Most of the missing persons, if they were ever released, disclosed that they were subjected to inhuman and inexplicable torture during their detention inside torture cells at unknown locations.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had said off and on that no one from Balochistan was in the custody of the intelligence agencies. Ridiculing the Baloch claim of four thousand people’s disappearance, the federal minister said these were “unrealistic” and “exaggerated” figures. One has also heard on a number of occasions by the top officials of the government, including former President General Pervez Musharraf, that these missing persons of Balochistan had gone to Afghanistan and Dubai for various reasons. In return, they charged that the families of these missing persons of maligning the country’s security forces because of their prolonged protest rallies and public demonstrations.
The million dollar question is: Where did these odd twenty missing persons come from? Who arrested them? Where were they kept? Why did they resurface only after the announcement of the Balochistan package? Why they were not brought before the courts? Why are they so terrified to utter a single word to their family and community members about their captors and the kind of questions they were asked? These questions generate more suspicions about the role of the state apparatus. It also gives currency to the Baloch nationalist parties’ claim that thousands of Balochs are still missing and the government has not been truthful about this grave state of human rights violation.
Ironically, the release of twenty people came only after the government exerted some pressure on the powers that be to give it a face-saving by at least releasing some of the disappeared people. Thus, if the government can play a role in getting some people released only to improve its tarnished image then it should also take more similar measures to win the hearts of the disgruntled Balochs by releasing the other missing persons as well.
Many of the families of the missing persons in Balochistan complain that their loved ones have not returned home yet. One has been hearing the names of several prominent figures who have been missing for years and months such as Ali Asghar Bungalzai, Hafiz Saeed Bungalzai, Baloch Republican Party (BRP) secretary information Jalil Reki, Vice Chairman of the Baloch Students Organization Zakir Majeed, Dr. Din Mohammad Baloch and many others whose families have been protesting before various press clubs and the building of Balochistan High Court. Where are the remaining missing persons? If the government knew about the whereabouts of these 20 people who were recently released, it surely has some information about the abovementioned missing persons as well.
Another related mistake made by the government to release twenty missing persons after the announcement of the Balochistan package is the wrong timing for this move. Had the government taken such an initiative before formulating and announcing the Balochistan package, it would remarkably help to win the confidence of Baloch nationalist parties. No doubt, the Baloch political parties would see a little hope to join the dialogue process if they saw the government taking some sincerely measures.
At the moment, the release of twenty missing persons is, unfortunately, going to widen the gulf between the province and the center as the latter had been lying for so many years about the missing persons saying that they were not in the official custody. The Baloch opposition would now seemingly believe that this government is not serious in resolving the Balochistan issue but endeavoring to notch political scores.
While welcoming the release of twenty missing persons, we would like to recommend the government to “do more” in Balochistan regarding the missing persons. The release of the missing persons should not be confined to the members of particular tribes or areas which may lead to speculations that the government is acting on a policy of “divide and rule” in Balochistan. All the missing persons should be released at once in order to pave the way for future dialogue between the province and the center.