The Balochistan National Party Mengal (BNP-Mengal) and the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) held a seminar in the federal capital Islamabad on Friday to mark the World Human Rights Day which is commemorated across the globe on December 10th annually. MNA Mohsin Dawar, activist Manzoor Pashteen, journalists Hamid Mir and Saleem Safi, members of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the families of the Baloch missing persons and several other political activists were present at the seminar.
The seminar, titled “Pakistan’s Hidden Tragedy”, was hosted by the BNP-Mengal in Islamabad to mark World Human Rights Day and highlight the tragedy of enforced disappearances that have plagued Balochistan for over two decades. The seminar was also attended by the families of Baloch missing persons who also held a gathering on the D-Chowk on Thursday.
Addressing the gathering, the speakers said that enforced disappearances are currently the greatest tragedy to befall Pakistan. They said that the issue of missing persons is not new; it has existed for decades. Governments came one after the other, but the issue persists – no one could root it out, they said.
BNP-Mengal Chief Akhtar Mengal also addressed the gathering, saying that thousands have fallen victim to the grim practice of enforced disappearances. He said that whenever we address this or any other issue in Balochistan, we are told to bring the issues to the federal capital. Today we are here, he said.
Mengal said that there is no government representative here today, and only a few journalists are covering the event. Such seminars are held so frequently in Islamabad that the people are now accustomed to them – they are no longer interested in them. If we had announced that we are holding a gathering in support of the government, there might have been enough space to accommodate the participants. We are talking about the downtrodden, and there is no one here, he said.
Journalist Hamid Mir said that the security forces abduct people on arbitrary charges, kill them in cold blood and don’t even return the dead bodies to their loved ones. He said that enforced disappearances began in Balochistan with the abduction of Asad Mengal, the younger brother of Akhtar Mengal, and have not halted since – if anything, they have accelerated. He said that the people in power often claim that the missing persons are not actually “missing” but have fled to Afghanistan where Ashraf Ghani is supporting them. Now your protégé – the Taliban – are in power in Afghanistan; then where are the missing persons going? he asked.
Representing the families of the Baloch missing persons, activist Sammi Deen Baloch said that there is no judicial apparatus in Pakistan for the missing persons. She said that when the families visit the authorities to ask about their loved ones, they are harassed and kept off. The government has now passed a new law that threatens severe punishment for the families in case they fail to prove the enforced disappearance of their loved ones. This is plain injustice. She said that the judiciary and the police of Pakistan cater to the intelligence agencies and the military, then how can we prove that our loved ones are missing for the past several years.
She said that the government gave us false promises and sent us on our way home ten months earlier. The authorities assured us that our loved ones will come back, but they soon reneged on their promises.
Journalist Asima Shirazi said that the issue of enforced disappearances is grim and gruesome. The way the resilient Baloch women are leading the struggle for the safe return of their loved ones, I’m sure that the women will bring the revolution, she said.
MNA Mohsin Dawar said that the issue of enforced disappearances pervades much of Pakistan, especially the tribal areas of each province. But the issue is most intense in Balochistan where thousands are missing without a trace. He said that governments promises to resolve the issue, but then failed miserably.
PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen said that there is no transparent judicial apparatus in Pakistan for missing persons and their families. Nowhere is safe for the people now – every house, every academic institution in Balochistan and FATA suffer from this issue. The people are confused about where should they go for education or employment.
Pashteen said that enforced disappearances are carried out with a well-thought-out strategy. The people in power do it with utter impunity because they know that there is no one out there to hold them accountable.