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Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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March 1, 2014

2,000 kilometers long march to highlight
the issue of Baloch missing persons

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The families of Baloch missing persons on Feb 28, 2014, completed more than 2,000 kilometers protest march on foot to highlight the issue of missing persons in Pakistan's volatile Balochistan province.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Person (VBMP) organized the march, which started in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan on October 27, 2013 and ended in Karachi where the marchers demonstrated in front of the Karachi Press Club on November 23. In the first phase of the march the families covered 730 km on foot.  The second phase from Karachi to Islamabad began in mid-December and reached Islamabad Friday. The second phase covered 1,200 kilometers, perhaps, setting a new record in the global historic long-marches.

Among the marchers was the seven-year-old son of Jalil Reki, who was according to the marchers "extra-judicially executed after a year of his disappearance in an ISI torture cell." The ISI - Inter-services Intelligence is Pakistan's prime spy agency controlled by the all powerful Army.

Others included Nasrullah Baloch, whose uncle has been missing for 11 years; Mama Qadeer Baloch, whose cousin has been missing since 2001 and whose son was killed during his detention, and Farzana Majeed, whose brother Zakir Majeed Baloch has been missing since 2009 after his arrest by the Frontier Corp (FC) paramilitary force. Dr Din Muhammad has been missing for the last four years and his daughter Subha Baloch is taking part in the long march.

All of these marchers accuse the military and FC of abducting, torturing and killing their loved ones.

There is no agreement on the figures of those missing. Nationalist groups in Balochistan claim that up to 18,000 Baloch persons and teenage boys are missing, while independent sources claim that more than 6,000 persons have gone missing after being arrested.

The long march participants, who left Quetta on foot to reach Islamabad about four months ago, hope to raise awareness about human rights violations in Balochistan and demand the recovery of missing relatives. The marchers intend to present their demands to the United Nations in Islamabad.

The Awami Workers Party (AWP) has condemned the silence of elected representatives on enforced disappearances in Balochistan, especially given the threats to the security of the participants of the peaceful long march, who are only exercising their democratic right.

Long marchers harassed

Mama Qadeer Baloch, the long march leader, never faced any problems while crossing Sindh province. Many Sindhi nationalist parties expressed solidarity with the marchers in different cities, according to the News. The marchers started facing problems when they entered Punjab. This convoy was first stopped in Multan and then in Okara. Armed people in uniform pointed guns at Farzana Majid Baloch and forced her to go back but she refused. Despite threats Seraiki nationalists openly supported the cause of Mama Qadeer Baloch in Multan.

Chairperson of the Defense for Human Rights Amna Masood Janjua also welcomed the march of Mama Qadeer Baloch in Lahore along with the families of many missing persons from different areas of the Punjab. The so-called guardians of national interest advised many journalists in Lahore to stay away from Mama Qadeer Baloch, the News said adding: Lahorites actually missed the golden opportunity of removing misunderstandings between common Punjabis and the oppressed people of Balochistan. 

It may be pointed out that about 90% army of Pakistan comes from the Punjab province which claims 56% of the population of Pakistan. There is a general hatred against the army in Balochistan which is the largest province in area but thinly populated. There is also hatred in Sindh province. After military operation in Pakistan's tribal territories the mercenary army also became unpopular in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Mama Qadeer Baloch again faced threats from the commandos of Punjab police near Gujrat. The marchers were asked to go back but they refused. They were not allowed to pass through the Gujrat city. They were forced to go towards Gujrat bypass. Again they were threatened and abused near Sarai Alamgir by one dozen strangers in the presence of local police.

Mama Qadeer told The News that some common Punjabis offered them water, food and night stay at their homes but they were later threatened by the government agencies. Mama said: “We know that all the Punjabis are not bad but intelligence agencies never allowed them to even welcome us. It was against the culture of Punjab.”

 Some Baloch students from Lahore and Islamabad joined the march just to give some protection to the small convoy but they used masks to hide their faces. They fear that intelligence agencies will create problems for their families in Balochistan. On the other hand, some intelligence operators traveling with marchers also using masks because they feared the media cameras.

Asian Human Rights Commission

According to Asian Human Rights Commission, conservative estimates place the number of enforced disappearances at between 10,000 and 15,000. In a report submitted to the Human Rights Council this week, the Asian Legal Resource Centre pointed out that Balochistan province, at this moment in time, may be said to be the place in the world where the largest number of enforced disappearances take place. The Supreme Court of Pakistan and several High Courts have recognised the high level of disappearances that take place in the province. However, neither the courts nor the government have been able to take any effective steps to stop the practice of enforced disappearances or even to bring down the numbers of such instances that take place.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) report said that  the government of Pakistan has refused to take any active steps to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. It appears that the government is under pressure from the armed forces and the intelligence services to avoid any serious steps to discourage the practice of enforced disappearances as a counter insurgency measure against the people of Balochistan. The parliament has not held any serious debate on the issue of enforced disappearances despite of the Supreme Court and High Courts making some attempts to intervene in the issue.

The ALRC has appealed the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances of the United Nations to intervene in order to stop the disappearances and the accompanying brutality such as large scale illegal abductions and the mutilation of bodies. As the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances is aware of the ongoing large scale disappearances through the interventions of many human rights organizations the appropriate response from the Working Group, as well as other UN agencies should be to cause a serious discussion with the government of Pakistan and to provide advice and any other technical assistance in order that the government may intervene more clearly and decisively to stop the ongoing practice of enforced disappearances.

In January last, the issue of missing got a new twist when mass graves were uncovered in Kuzdar. according to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in total 103 bodies were recovered from the graves. The bodies were too decomposed to be identified. Chairman, Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, Naseerullah Baloch told a press conference among them three person have been identified as missing persons. He said gunfire was opened when the heirs tried to reach the mass graves. He also said that the access of media and human rights bodies have been denied to these graves.

Many political analysts believe that the Pakistan army is repeating the history of East Pakistan when it launched a brutal operation against the Bengali separatists that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh in 1971. It is argued that the Pakistan army was not successful in East Pakistan because the Bengali separatists were backed by India while East Pakistan was physically separated by West Pakistan with more than 1,000 miles hostile Indian territory. East Pakistan was the largest province of Pakistan with 51 million population while Balochi speaking population is only 6.2 million which is easy to crush by Pakistani Armed Forces which rank seventh in the world in term of active troops.

The Carnegie Paper on Balochistan

However, the Carnegie Paper of April 2013 on Balochistan by Fradric Grare suggested: "Balochistan, the largest but least populous province of Pakistan, is slowly descending into anarchy. Since 2005, Pakistani security forces have brutally repressed the Baloch nationalist movement, fueling ethnic and sectarian violence in the province. But the Pakistani armed forces have failed to eliminate the insurgency—and the bloodshed continues. Any social structures in Balochistan capable of containing the rise of radicalism have been weakened by repressive tactics. A power vacuum is emerging, creating a potentially explosive situation that abuts the most vulnerable provinces of Afghanistan. Only a political solution is likely to end the current chaos."

In 2005, the Baluch political leaders Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Mir Balach Marri presented a 15-point agenda to the Pakistan government. Their stated demands included greater control of the province's resources and a moratorium on the construction of military bases. On 15 December 2005 inspector general of the Frontier Corps, Major General Shujaat Zamir Dar and his deputy Brigadier Salim Nawaz (the current IGFC) were wounded after shots were fired at their helicopter in the Balochistan province. The two men had been visiting Kohlu, about 220 km southeast of Quetta, when their aircraft came under fire. The helicopter landed safely.

In August 2006, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, 79 years old, was killed in a military operation which provided a new cause to the Baloch nationalists and separatists.

In April 2009, Baloch National Movement president Ghulam Mohammed Baloch and two other nationalist leaders, Lala Munir and Sher Muhammad, were seized from a small legal office and were handcuffed, blindfolded and hustled into a waiting pickup truck.  Five days later, their bodies, riddled with bullets were found in a commercial area. The Balochistan Liberation Army claimed Pakistani forces were behind the killings. The discovery of the bodies sparked rioting and weeks of strikes, demonstrations and civil resistance" in cities and towns around Balochistan.

On 12 August 2009, United Kingdom-based Khan of Kalat Mir Suleiman Dawood declared himself ruler of Balochistan and formally announced a Council for Independent Balochistan. The council's claimed domain includes "Baloch of Iran", as well as Pakistani Balochistan. The council contains all separatist leaders including Nawabzada Bramdagh Bugti.

According to the Carnegie Paper, the failure of the security forces to end the Balochistan conflict by the sword should suggest to Islamabad that Pakistan’s diversity will have to be managed politically, not repressed or suppressed by military means. "The choice is ultimately between some form of popular participation or complete fragmentation. If a solution is to be found, it will have to be political. In Balochistan, the military wanted to eliminate the traditional and local structures to reinforce state power. It has unquestionably managed to destroy traditional social structures, but in the process, it has further weakened the Pakistani state and advanced the hard-liners’ position. In many ways, then, Balochistan is thus reflective of the fate of Pakistan as a whole."

Many Pakistanis now view the security forces—not the separatists—as the biggest obstacle to national unity and stability, the Carnegie paper pointed out adding: A negotiated solution is politically feasible. The nationalist movement is weak and divided, and a majority of Baloch favors more autonomy, not the more extreme position of independence. Islamabad may be willing to seek a political solution now that it has failed to eliminate the nationalists by force of arms.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( Email: asghazali2011 (@)