The recoveries of Baloch missing persons have seen a sudden increase in the past few days. 19 people have returned home this week alone, and the atmosphere is thick with mixed feelings in Balochistan. Some have called it a “positive step”, but others are suspicious. The government has not commented on the issue yet.
Nasrullah Baloch, Chairman of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, confirmed the recovery of the missing persons, calling it a “positive step.” “The recovery of missing persons brings back the joy of their families.”
The VBMP chairman said that the missing persons who reunited with their families belonged to Dera Bugti, Turbat, Kech, and Gwadar districts. Rab Nawaz Langove, a resident of Mangochar, returned home after eight years. Babu Hasan reunited with his family after a seven-year-long separation. Similarly, five other persons from Gwadar also returned home.
“We request the state to consider the issue of missing persons with empathy, ensure the recovery of other missing persons and resolve the issue of enforced disappearance per the constitution”, he said.
Nasruallah Baloch said that his organization had presented the list of 590 people to the provincial government, of which 315 have returned but 295 still remain missing. Ziaullah Langove, Balochistan’s Minister of Home and Tribal Affairs, said that the government received the list of 392 people, of which “300 to 350” have safely returned home. Government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani did not comment on the issue.
Political analysts believe that the sudden surge in the release of missing persons is an evasive manoeuvre of the Pakistani state to divert the recent resentment over activist Karima Baloch’s burial amid strict security. The Pakistani security forces had seized the dead body of the activist after it had been flown from Canada to Karachi, where it was to be handed over to her family. But the Pakistani authorities intervened and forcibly moved the dead body to Turbat in a heavily armed convoy. They also cordoned off the Tump, barring outsiders from entering the area to attend Karima Baloch’s funeral — they had to resort to in absentia funeral prayers.
This action created widespread resentment among the people of Balochistan. Thousands took to the streets and the social media to protest the “disrespect” of Karima Baloch’s dead body. Prominent politicians and activists said that the Pakistani government is “afraid of a dead body.” Others said that the Karima Baloch will go down in history as a woman “who fought against oppression from cradle to the grave.”
It is to mention that Karima Baloch’s suspicious death in Canada and due to her activism for independence and resistant political views against the Pakistani state made people of Balochistan believe that Pakistani secret agencies are involved in her “murder.” Whereas, Canadian police didn’t rule any foul play in her death incident. While on the other hand, Karima’s family is demanding to launch a through investigation into the matter.
Akhtar Mengal, President of the Balochistan National Party Mengal, in his address to the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2018 presented the list of more than 5000 missing persons to the newly elected PTI government. He said that the list also included women, children and elderly people.
In its six-point agenda to the federal government, BNP-Mengal had also demanded the immediate release of the thousands of Baloch missing persons. Mengal subsequently ended his alliance with the government over its failure to implement accords with the party.
Some of the missing persons indeed returned during the initial days of the PTI government, but the BNP-Mengal chief was less sure of the government’s intent and sincerity. He said that the government is releasing one or two people at a time per its political needs. They don’t have any space left imprison more people, so they are releasing them, he said.
Mengal also claimed that the rate of “enforced disappearances” vastly outstrips the rate of recoveries – 400 people have been released, but 1500 others abducted. He said that the government releases missing persons whenever it needs allies. “They believe we will be satisfied with their charades and make decisions per their wishes; that will not happen.”
“Enforced disappearances” are a major human rights issue in Balochistan. Various independent sources have placed the figure of the missing persons in Balochistan in thousands. Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, a rights group advocating for the safe recovery of Baloch missing persons, has been campaigning against enforced disappearances for more than a decade. In 2008, the VBMP activists made history by carrying out a 3000 km long march from Quetta to Islamabad.
VBMP activists have also attended conferences in Geneva, the United States and various other international forums in the pursuit of their cause. They have also met with representatives of the US, the European Union and numerous international rights groups in this regard.
The families of the missing persons, journalists and rights groups blame the Pakistani security forces for the disappearances. They claim that the Pakistani state employs this strategy to silence political dissidents, human rights groups, nationalists and campaigners. They say that the forces “abduct” the people, confine and torture them in torture cells and throw their bruised dead bodies in the wilderness.
The Pakistani government established the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance in 2011 intending to eliminate the “menace of enforced disappearances.” While the commission has successfully traced the whereabouts of missing persons in a number of cases, it has done little to put an end to enforced disappearances.
The International Commission of Jurists, one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, said in a briefing paper that the commission has failed “wholly to address the entrenched impunity” and left the victims of enforced disappearances and their families “without any redress.”
“A Commission that does not address impunity, nor facilitate justice for victims and their families, can certainly not be considered effective”, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director Ian Seiderman said.
The ICJ said that thousands of people continue to be “missing” following their explicit arrest or “abduction” by the Pakistani state or with its complicity.
“The Government has used the Commission to deflect criticism and claim it is serious about addressing enforced disappearances”, Seiderman said.