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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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February 6, 2014

Mass graves discovery gives a new twist to
the issue of Baloch missing persons

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Discovery of three mass graves in Khuzdar has given a new twist to the issue  of the missing persons in Pakistan's Balochistan province. The Deputy Commissioner of  Khuzdar Abdul Waheed Shah on February 4, 2014 confirmed the discovery of the three mass graves.

The DC, in a report to the Supreme Court, said that a shepherd from Tootak area had approached his office on Jan 17 to inform that he had seen vultures and crows hovering over some bodies lying under heaps of stone and mud in the remote area of Mazzi. The DC went to the area and dug two marked spots. Two bodies were found in one grave while 11 were found in two other graves.

Two bodies — of Qadir Bakhsh and Naseer Ahmed of Peer Andar — were identified and handed over to their heirs.  The DC report did not say if the two were on the list of mission persons.

However, 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. From the three mass graves 17, 8 and 78 bodies were found but the local people say that a total of 169 bodies have been found.

Chairman, Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, Naseerullah Baloch told a press conference on Friday that around 100 bodies have been recovered from the mass graves in Khuzdar and 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.

Naseerullah Baloch claimed the mass graves were also uncovered in Pishin and Panjgor. He also claimed existence of torture cell of local security unit close to these graves. He said "we moved the issue in the Supreme Court but the Balochistan govt and the lawyers of the secret agencies are causing unnecessary delays to these cases and presenting wrong facts and figures in the apex court. "

Tellingly, in October last year President Mamnoon Hussain issued the Protection of Pakistan (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 which allows an army officer to enter and search any premises, make any arrest, take possession of any property without a warrant. The law also permits law enforcement agencies to lock up any person and a court cannot question their detention. The PPO is currently pending in the National Assembly.

Long March for Missing Persons

Meanwhile, families of Baloch missing persons continue their Long  March in a desperate bid to draw attention to their plight.

The Voice for Baloch Missing Person (VBMP) organized the march, which started in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan on October 27 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 Multan this week. The second phase will cover 1,200 kilometers.

Tellingly, Pakistani 'independent' media has virtually ignored the long march.

The Vice Chairman of VBMP, Qadeer Baloch says: ”There are some people who are concerned by the awareness this long march can bring and have started to bully the families of the long marchers back in Quetta.” He added, “The houses of several people of those who have openly shown support for the long march have been raided.”

Among the marchers is 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.”

Others include 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 VBMP says it has succeeded in raising the issue at the international level. As a result, a team of UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) visited Pakistan and Balochistan in September 2012. This was the first-ever visit of a high-level UN mission to Balochistan in relation to the missing people. They conducted detailed interviews with leaders of Voice for Baloch Missing persons and families of the victims.

The issue of Baloch missing persons is not new. Thousands continue to disappear in Pakistan as a separatist movement simmers in Balochistan.

According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) fact finding mission titled “Hopes Fears and Alienation in Balochistan” of 2012,Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province and its least populous and most troubled.

The most dominant feature of the province is a violent insurgency in the Baloch majority districts that started in 2006 after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation.

From the year 2000 till 2012, the HRCP recorded 198 missing persons from Balochistan. It also gathered evidence of 57 bodies, some of them unidentified, that were found in the same province.

Some months ago, the HRCP noted with concern the continued dumping of mutilated dead bodies of missing Baloch men in Karachi and demanded that the killers be brought to justice. The body of Abdul Razzaq, a Balochistan-based journalist who lived in Karachi’s Lyari area and had been missing since March 2013, was so badly mutilated that his family could not identify him in August. In the end, only his arms and legs were sufficiently intact to enable identification. Razzaq worked for the daily Balochi-language newspaper Tawar where he was a senior sub-editor.

"Journalists in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas are constantly the targets of intimidation and violence, and the impunity enjoyed by those who murder them just sustains this climate of terror," Reporters without Borders says.

Six journalists have been killed in Pakistan in 2013, four of them from Balochistan.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.