The event, “Un-Silencing Balochistan (Take 2)” was organized after LUMS University cancelled the talk due to security threats allegedly from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The transcript and audio has been provided to us by Mahmud’s friends.
This panel was intended as a conversation with: Mama Qadeer, a Baloch activist who went on a long march to protest forcible disappearances in Balochistan; Baloch activists Farzana Baloch, and Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur and journalists Malik Siraj Akbar and Wusut Ullah Khan.
Mahmud introduced the panel members to 60-70 audience members who clapped enthusiastically for every one of the speakers. In her introduction, Sabeen joked that while LUMS had been forced to cancel its event, she had received no such warning about today’s talk and so they would continue with their conversation. She acknowledged that people had very strong opinions on this issue and while encouraging debate, she also urged everyone to be respectful of each other and respect the decorum of the room.
EXCERPT OF MAMA QADEER’S TALK
History tells us that the Baloch have lived for centuries in their land of Balochistan with their own culture and civilization and have always fought for their land against foreign invaders. And despite being occupied, they have not allowed their language, culture, or traditions to die out. At the end of British rule in the subcontinent, there was a conspiracy to give Balochistan over to the tyranny of Pakistan. Pakistan was created with the support of religion through unnatural and undemocratic means. Power was given to their favorite stooge who was forced upon the public by military might. Balochistan’s eyes were soon opened to Pakistan’s ploys. Balochistan’s leaders, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, and Sardar Ataullah Mengal began to raise their voice against Pakistan’s coercive attitude towards oppressed nations. The government of Pakistan labeled them traitors and shut them up in jails. They began a series of army operations against Balochistan. Nationalists and political leaders and activists have been violently killed or mentally and physically hurt for the past 67 years.
The situation today is that thousands of Baloch are victims of violence in the army’s torture cells. The courts, political parties, human rights organizations, and civil society are helpless in front of the Pakistan Army and its agencies. The media is forced to remain silent on the missing persons and the tortured bodies [that are found regularly in Balochistan]. International human rights organizations and media is forbidden from going to those areas. Baloch activists or students who are released from torture cells, after the army, Frontier Corps or Rangers conduct operation in an area, their horrifying stories send shivers down one’s spine that the government of Pakistan, founded on the religion of Islam, its Muslim soldiers and agency operatives can inflict such inhuman violence against Muslims.
Agha Abdul Karim Khan and his activists were imprisoned in Machh and Quetta and afterwards were transferred to and abused in the torture cells of Quetta. Agha Abdul Karim Khan was given ten years rigorous imprisonment and a fine. After this, in Iskander Mirza’s time, Kalat was again … This time, Jhalawan’s Nawab Nauroz Khan took up the struggle against the forces in the mountains. In dictator Ayub Khan’s time, Nawab Nauroz Khan was betrayed by the army after it had made a pact with him in the name of the Holy Quran. He was arrested along with his two sons and companions. Nawab Nauroz Khan attained martyrdom in jail, when his two sons along with seven companions were hung in the Hyderabad and Sukkur Jails.
In 1973, in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s supposedly democratic period, Balochistan’s chief minister Ataullah Mengal’s government was dismissed and an army operation launched. Balochistan and political leaders like Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Wali Khan and others were charged with the Hyderabad Conspiracy. Iranian helicopters were used to bombard Balochistan’s cities. Over 8000 Baloch were killed, including women and children, whereas Pakistan lost 5000 troops. During that time, Baloch homes and livestock were also burnt and destroyed by helicopter. At that time, too, the newspapers were censored and no news was published of the army operation in Balochistan.
During Ziaul Haq’s government too, Balochistan is at the front in terms of human rights violations. Mama Khair Bakhsh Marri was forced to go to Afghanistan with his friends and tribe, while Sardar Ataullah Mengal went to London. Dictator Ziaul Haq wanted to hang a Baloch student, Shaheed Hameed Baloch, who was given a death sentence from a military court, when the colonel from the Muscat army, who Shaheed Hameed Baloch had shot, had not died. Balochistan High Court Justice Khuda Bakhsh Marri had already ruled that because the Muscat army colonel had not died in the assassination attempt, a death sentence cannot be given. Ziaul Haq set aside this verdict, promulgated an ordinance to install a military court and passed a death sentence and executed him. No human rights organization raised its voice against this gross violation.
In any country where rule of law is not supreme, its society becomes victim of chaos and terrorism. For the past 67 years human rights violation have been accompanied by a lack of rule of law. It is Pakistan’s misfortune that the very ruler who gave the 1973 constitution was also hanged. The constitution of 1973 gives death penalty to anyone who overthrows the constitution but neither Army General Dictator Ziaul Haq nor Army General Dictator Pervez Musharraf were punished for overthrowing the constitution. Rather, Pakistan’s Supreme Court favored them. Dictator Ziaul Haq would openly say that the Constitution is nothing but a piece of paper and can do nothing to us. Both of Pakistan’s army generals ruled simultaneously holding the positions of army chief of staff, martial law administrator and president of Pakistan. Creating religious fanaticism in the name of the Afghan War, they hurled thousands of Pashtuns into war. They made weapon and drug mafia and their business common. They banned all political parties. They held farcical referendums and elections; reined in press freedom; used the name of Islam for their own government; and took in 40 lakh Afghans in the name of asylum but turned them into extremists for their own agenda; and also deposed his own Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo.
Support independent media. Support Tanqeed.
After him, Peoples Party Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif were given power in the name of democracy but they also took their lead from the establishment. Rather than strengthening democracy and political parties, they strengthened the army. The result was that in 1999 the Army General Pervez Musharraf once more overturned a democratic government and took power and once more kicked the constitution with army boots. In Musharraf’s time of rule, human rights violation reached their heights. An army operation was launched once more in Balochistan. Declaring an emergency, the courts were reined in and an assassination attempt carried out on Benazir Bhutto. After she escaped the first time, she was killed on 27 December 2007 by gunfire and a bomb blast in a rally at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice was deposed. On 12 May 2012, on the occasion of the justice’s arrival in Karachi, the entire city was shut up with containers and the public attacked by MQM terrorists. In the lawyers offices near the city court, two lawyers were burned alive. That entire day, terrorists carried out their activities in the city and despite media coverage neither was anyone arrested nor the judicial commission’s decision implemented. Instead, the reporters of the electronic media were attacked and killed.
Respected audience, now I come to the aims and activities of my organization, Voice of Baloch Missing Persons. Before our organization, the relatives of missing persons and various political parties would protest without organization and every so often would launch hunger strike camps, demonstrations, and rallies. We felt that the number of missing persons was increasing day by day and therefore we should found an organization for concerted action. For this reason us relatives of missing persons collectively founded VBMP in 2009 and for the past six years we have continuously kept hunger strike camps going.
Here, I find it necessary to tell you that my son Shahid Jalil Ahmed Reki, who was the central secretary of information of the Baloch Republican Party, was picked up from outside my home on 13 February 2009 by Frontier Corps and ISI men in plainclothes in two unmarked HiLux cars. After keeping him in torture cells for three years, his tortured corpse was 24 November 2011 found in Shiraz Mand in Balochistan.
In Musharraf’s times, people were picked up, kept in torture cells for a year or year and a half and then released. But after the Peoples Party government came into power in 2008, the tortured bodies of many leaders like Mumtaz Baloch, BNA leader Shahid Muhammad Ghulam Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch, and BRP leader Shahid Muhammad Baloch were found in the Pidrak area of Turbat, Balochistan. They had been thrown out of helicopters. After this the discovery of tortured bodies continued to grow.
Today when I am addressing this conference, the number of missing persons from Balochistan is over 21,000. This is the figure for 2014. We are writing up the figures for 2015 and release them every six months together. So until 2014, over 21,000 missing persons and over 6,000 tortured bodies have also been found. We knocked on every door for the missing persons issue. We went to the judiciary, political parties, human rights organizations, civil society, reporters and electronic media. We met people of every station and gave them all the details about missing persons and tortured bodies but with every coming day their numbers have continued to grow. And since Dr. Malik, National Party, Mahmud Khan Achakzai, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have come to power in Balochistan, the number of missing persons and tortured bodies have been increasing.
Before, individuals would be arrested and disappeared, but now FC, Levies and police surround an area and arrest dozens at a time. In Balochistan’s area, Mashkey, Awaran, [inaudible place], Mand, Gwadar, Pasni, Panjgur, [inaudible place], Buleda, Shahpur, Shahrag, [inaudible place], Gomazi, [inaudible place], Khuzdar, Kalat, [inaudible place], Bolan, Dera Bugti, Sui, Jaffarabad, Sibi, Mastung, Kohlu, [inaudible place], [inaudible place], [inaudible place], [inaudible place], by bombing urban areas they are killing women and children too.
Seeing these government brutalities, we began a Long March from Quetta to Karachi on 27 October 2013. A long and difficult march, comprised of twenty women, children, and men, who, despite blisters on their feet, reached Karachi on 5 November, where thousands welcomed us at the Karachi Press Club. This was the first occasion when Pakistan’s press and electronic media was forced to publish and report on this, especially BBC.com, Daily Dawn English, Vsh News and other media outlets. Karachi Press Club held a welcome ceremony for members of the Long March where thousands of Baloch and Sindhi nationalists and leaders also participated. Despite travelling 750 kilometers, the Long March members’ commitment was stronger than before.
After holding a seminar at the Karachi Press Club on the International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2013, the Long March set out towards Islamabad. I salute the Sindhi public, that Sindhi nationalists received the Long March with great enthusiasm in village after village. They were our companions till the border of Punjab. At that time, we felt like we and Sindhis are one in our pain and peace. In Punjab’s Seraiki belt, Baloch tribes also gave us an enthusiastic welcome. In Dera Ghazi Khan, thousands participated in our rally.
On entering Punjab, we began to receive threats. At Okara there was a conspiracy to run the Long March members over with a truck. But our determination and resolve increased when Geo’s famous reporter Hamid Mir kept his promise and received us at Jhelum. Hamid Mir was on foot with the Long March participants and was immensely worried about the lives of the participants. He also said that the Long March will be in most danger from Jhelum to Islamabad. This is why he put his own life in danger and came to Jhelum. His action was repaid such that an assassination attempt was carried out on him in Karachi where he was shot six times and he barely returned from the brink of death.
The 3,000 kilometer long and arduous journey came to an end in Islamabad. Here the Awami Workers Party, civil society, and human rights organizations received us warmly but the media’s harsh questions hounded us. One would say we were RAW agents, another American CIA, and another would accuse us of being an Israeli spy. Repeatedly, we would get just one question: “Where do you get your funding from? On whose instructions are you carrying out this Long March?”
We were on the Long March, when we were informed that 8 collective graves were discovered in Khuzdar, Tootak where around 169 tortured bodies were found. Of these, three bodies were identified of whom two were brothers who had been arrested and disappeared by the FC during the Awaran earthquake. The other bodies were all in a state that they could not be identified. The place where these collective graves were found was exactly the same spot where in January 2011 the Pakistan Army conducted a large operation and gave this area over to Shafiq Mengal, the leader of its death squad, Musala Difa. In this large operation, the respected Muhammad Rais Qalandarani and his entire family was arrested and taken away by the forces and have left no trace of them. We have also learnt in the past days that there are collective graves in Dera Bugti and Sui, which lends credence to the fact that missing persons are often killed and buried in collective graves. Similarly, it has come to our attention that over the past ten years unidentified and unknown persons have been buried at the Edhi Center graveyard in Mawach Goth, Karachi. According to gravediggers there, in the past three years, most of the people buried here looked Baloch from their faces and bodies. For a long time, we had put up a banner in our camp demanding to know where the missing persons are, have they been swallowed up by the ground or secreted into the sky? Now, with time, it is becoming apparent that most of the missing persons are killed through torture and buried in unidentified places and graves. The Edhi Graveyard in Mawach Goth is known as the Unidentified Graveyard. Till now, neither has the judiciary taken notice of this, nor are the human rights organizations working on it.The barbarism and ruthlessness of the Pakistan Army and its agency, including FC and Rangers, is unprecedented.
Like us? We survive on generous support from our readers.
Respected audience and friends, it is extremely difficult to work to secure human rights in Balochistan. The attitude adopted by the rulers and the establishment towards Voice for Baloch Missing Persons officers, political activists, journalists and civil society members here is unbearable. In Balochistan, it is considered criminal to raise your voice for the human rights of the missing persons. Balochistan is at the top of the list of human rights violations taking place in Pakistan. At this time, a large number of political activists, students, women and ordinary people have also gone missing in Balochistan but on the other side no one from the media to the rulers has spoken on the uncovering of the tortured bodies of the missing person. Balochistan is a vast place. People do not contact our organization VBMP out of fear. But, the government shows a very low figure for missing persons.
Religious extremism is being increased in Balochistan. In Pakistan, religion is being used against those who raise their voice for their rights. This will create grave problems for peace in the future. The situation that is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today can well be the fate of Balochistan tomorrow. No country in the world runs in the name of religion. This country’s National Assembly’s example is before you, where elected representatives have agreed to amendments in favor of military courts despite the fact that they are known as friends of democracy. Forming military courts is a sign of a lack of confidence in the judiciary and democracy. In India, when the army is attacked, accused are tried in civil court. Similarly, even in Afghanistan, where there have been more incidents of terrorism than here, civil courts try such cases. Certainly, the Peshawar incident is grievous. The murder of innocent children is an extremely unusual act and a grave crime. But, military courts are not the solution to this problem.
There is no expectation from the present government that it will take any serious steps to resolve the Balochistan’s problems because even today people are going missing and their tortured bodies are being found. People are migrating out of various parts of Balochistan because the situation there is not good. Therefore, Baloch nationalist leaders will have to inform the United Nations, America, European Union, and international human rights and civil society organizations of the grave situation in Balochistan to stop the annihilation of Baloch and Sindhi nations. They will have to use diplomatic channels to get their voices across to them. In today’s world, it is only through the extensive use of media and communication that they must alert the world of our situation.
EXCERT OF FARZANA MAJEED’S TALK
I want to thank all of you, for calling us here, and giving us a chance to talk about the human rights violations going on in Balochistan. Mama Qadeer just told all of you a lot about what all has happened in Balochistan, and what all is still happening in Balochistan.
As all of you know, Balochistan is an area of great importance to the whole world. It has many kinds of minerals and natural resources. It has a coast. Balochistan is the richest area of this region, but the natives of Balochistan, about whom we have been talking about for many years now – bringing light to issues in Balochistan such as the military operations in Balochistan, how people are being killed in Balochistan, how people are being kidnapped, taken away. The history of violation of human rights in Balochistan dates back to before I was born. Whatever has happened before is also in front of you. What is happening now, we have been telling you for the past five years.
I am an example of all this in front of you. Student leader, Zakir Majeed Baloch who is missing from 2009 to today. I have left home in search of my brother for the past six years. You all know how difficult this is for a woman. My whole family has been displaced in search of Zakir. I registered an FIR against Pakistan’s secret agencies and Pakistan security forces to find Zakir. I came before all the commissions appointed by the courts. And I attended all the hearings in the Balochistan High Court and Supreme Court of Islamabad. And at every place, I made only one demand that if my brother, Zakir Majeed, or any resident of Balochistan, has committed a crime, he should be presented before a court and punished in front of everyone in a court. You cannot just disappear him.
Support original journalism. Support Tanqeed.
If Pakistan is complaining that I go talk to Americans or that I appeal to the United Nations, but you did not listen to me so I will naturally turn to others. There are human rights organizations at the international level. The United Nations is an organization for human rights. The United Nations will have to listen to me. That why is no one in Pakistan listening to Farzana? Why has his brother or all the other students and people been disappeared? This is a long strategy. Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, which was formed in 2009 by the families of missing persons, has held different rallies and demonstrations. We had a token hunger strike outside the Quetta Press Club. Our hunger strike campaign continues till today, which is being led by Mama Qadeer Baloch. Outside Quetta, this hunger strike happens every year, sometimes for 15-20 days outside the Islamabad Press Club by the relatives of the missing persons or for 2-3 months outside the Karachi Press Club. Karachi has the presence of international media who might come and listen to us. We go to Islamabad because the Pakistan and international media and international community come and listen to us that why aren’t the missing persons being returned. If they have committed a crime, bring them forward and telling everyone that he has done such and such and that is why I have arrested him.
The biggest cruelty is that Mama Qadeer has been constantly protesting gets a phone call while sitting at a camp that your son’s body has been found. This is not an easy thing. You need a heart to be able to withstand such a thing.
Besides these strategies, we also did a historic Long March, which is a remarkable Long March in the world’s history. We first went from Quetta Press Club to Karachi Press Club. First, when we left from Quetta, we thought we will find at least someone who will listen to us on the way, maybe the Baloch sitting in the parliament will come stand with us that our daughters and mothers have come out and we have to do something but it is a shame that no one was able to do anything. Then we thought that someone in Karachi will listen to us but we saw that no one in the institutions was lifting a finger. Then we thought that we would go to Islamabad to the offices of the United Nations. The Sindhi people, their services for us and the care they took of us is all a part of history. I never thought that Sindhi people would give so much love to the Baloch. During the Long March we found our Sindhi brothers and sisters to be very loving people.
After that we went to Punjab. In the Balochistan part of Punjab–Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur etc.—many people took great care of us and supported us. But it is a shame that when we went to interior Punjab, we had thought that the politicians may not be supportive but the common people might be inclined towards us. But it is a shame that other than the Communist Party and a few of their people no one else came to us. Some called us RAW agents, some called us Mossad agents, some called us American supporters. Even in Okara, we were attacked. A truck injured our Baloch brother and also a Punjabi brother, Irfan, who was from the Communist Party, and he and his family was with us, even he was injured. We also took him to the hospital. A girl’s hand was also injured. We suffered many difficulties on the way. How much can a person bear? It is no easy feat to walk on foot to walk two or three thousand kilometers. It is only a necessity that compels one to do that.
But all this to a side, when we reached Dera Ghazi Khan, a kind person took us to his place. There we found out that mass graves have been discovered in Khuzdar, 169 bodies have been found, and there is great chaos in Balochistan. Think how worried I was for my brother in that moment. Or the girl who was with me, how worried she was for her father, I know that because I saw it. Ali Hyder’s sisters were crying. I asked them, why are you crying. They said because maybe our brother is also there. We are enduring such great pain … this is not a small thing, it is a very great thing. So there are many difficulties like this.
After the Long March, when we met various officials of the international community and we were invited to a program in New York and got a visa to go, when we were leaving from Karachi Airport, we were shocked to hear that our names are on the ECL [Exit Control List]. When we asked why our names our on the ECL, they said you are traitors. I said what do you mean traitors? He said there is an FIR against you. Fine, whatever you say, you can do what you want right now because you have power but people will see what happens in the future.
I cannot take up too much of your time. There are a lot of people sitting here. Many, many thanks to you all.