The Other Kind of Missing Persons
There are two types of missing persons in Balochistan. One type is of the people whose pictures are displayed at hunger strike camps outside local press clubs, courts and protest rallies because they have been illegally whisked away by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and security forces. Around five hundred of these missing persons have already been killed during the custody and their mutilated bodies have been dumped in various districts of Balochistan in an effort to send a clear warning to the people that they could also end up like this if they support the nationalist movement. The second type of the missing persons is the one that is seen holding the pictures of their disappeared loved ones, addressing press conferences and appearing in courts to seek justices for their relatives.
One may wonder how the second category of the people could also be termed ‘missing’. Many of us do not realize how these people are “missing” in the actual sense of the term but it is an issue that earnestly needs the attention of the government as well as that of the media and the civil society. This group comprises of young Baloch kids who have been ‘missing’ from their schools for several hundred days because they have had to abandon their studies in order to sit at the hunger strike camps to demand the recovery of their relatives. These people include young and middle-aged professionals who have gone “missing” from their offices or businesses in their native districts located in Balochistan’s far-off areas to go to Quetta and Islamabad in search of justice. This segment of citizens includes women who have gone “missing” from their kitchens because they believe they have a more important duty to fight until their loved ones come back home. The disappearance of these Balochs is not only felt in class rooms, offices, businesses and kitchens but also during important cultural and religious occasions when people are expected to celebrate with immeasurable joy.
These Balochs have also gone “missing” from all happy occasions. No one sees them during the Muslim festival of Eid which is locally marked as the day of happiness. For so many years now, the second category of the missing persons has disappeared from mainstream happiness, joy and celebrations. Unlike the rest of the normal kids, these children do not wear new clothes or shoes to mark the days of happiness. For them, every day is a day of struggle to fight injustice. They keep working together in order to motivate each other and not to give up. These people have simply disappeared from regular life. They are, contrary to the first category of the missing persons described above, not kept in physical torture cells by the military but they are in a permanent state of distress, anxiety and mental torture. Probably we see their pictures every day in different newspapers but we do not realize that we all have a collective responsibility to resurface these missing persons and bring them back to normal life. That can be done only by sincerely resolving the fundamental causes of their distress.
Once again, extremely emotional scenes were seen in Quetta when the relatives of the missing persons did not join the rest of the population to celebrate Eid. Remaining fully loyal to the very definition of the word ‘relationship’, these tireless family members and relatives did not lose hope in themselves and staged a protest rally. They are determined to fight for the recovery of their loved ones. Led by Abdul Qadeer Baloch, the vice chairman of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons, the protest included several women and children of the missing persons. According to B.B.C. Urdu, an eight-year girl, Nazia, spoke at the rally: “Look at me,” she told the audience, ” I am not celebrating Eid today like rest of the Muslims across the world; nor am I wearing new clothes because my brother, Zafar, has gone missing for two and half-years and I do not know under what conditions he is kept.” Sunday’s protest rally also included women who had traveled several hundred kilometers from as remote places as Turbat to go to Quetta to seek justice for their disappeared relatives.
Mr. Qadir Baloch, whose missing son Jalil Reki was killed in November 2011 after two-year long disappearance, mocked Pakistan for claiming to be an Islamic country but still treating the Balochs worse than animals. He said he had lost all hopes in the State institutions, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan where he had appeared twice to ask for justice. He informed the media that officials from the intelligence agencies laugh at the relatives of the missing persons when they go for court hearings as an expression of their arrogance over the impunity they enjoy in Pakistan.
The children and women of the missing persons are about to complete one thousand (1000) days of protest which is indeed going to be longest consistent strike in Pakistan’s history on the issue of enforced disappearances. The government’s failure to meet its responsibilities has ruined these protesting children’s education, health and economy of the families that are protesting. Worst still, they say they are regularly receiving death threats to stop their protests that ask for the release of the missing persons. Pakistan and the international community have a responsibility to end these citizens’ agonizing plight by ensuring the release of their loved ones and sending the other kind of missing persons to normal life.