24-day march for Pakistan's missing men crosses finish line

Some two dozen Baluch women walked some 750km over the last 24 days to call for the release of their missing fathers, sons and husbands.

24-day march for Pakistan's missing men crosses finish line

World Bulletin / News Desk

A 24-day women's march that set out from the southwestern Baluchistan province to demand the release of hundreds of missing Baluchmen – allegedly detained by Pakistani security agencies – ended on Friday evening in the southern port city of Karachi amid scenes of grief and defiance.

"We want our brothers and sons back home without delay," Sameen Gul Baluch, daughter of Deen Mohamed Baluch, missing since June 2009, told Anadolu Agency at the Karachi Press Club upon the conclusion of the march.

Surrounded by several masked youths who had presumably covered their faces to avoid state retribution, some two dozen Baluch women walked some 750km over the last 24 days to call for the release of their missing fathers, sons and husbands.

"Set the missing persons free. We want freedom," a crowd of around 300 men and women protesters – several of them carrying babies and small children –chanted in the Urdu and Baluchi languages outside the press club.

The march set out late last month from Quetta, the capital of mineral-rich Baluchistan, winding through several cities and towns before reaching Karachi, its final destination.

"I had no other choice but to shake the consciences of the people and rulers of this country," an emotional Sameen, carrying a portrait of her missing father, said.

"My father was arrested by security personnel in broad daylight. But they repeatedly lied before the courts [about the arrest]," she said.

Alive or dead

Human rights organizations and Baluch rebel groups blame Pakistani security forces for the disappearance of Baluch separatists who have been fighting for what they describe as the "liberation" of Baluchistan.

According to them, Baluchistan was forced to join Pakistan when the latter nation was partitioned from India in 1947.

Pakistani security agencies, for their part, deny the allegations, saying they are battling a fierce insurgency in the province – a key route for heroin smuggling from neighboring Afghanistan.

In recent years, hundreds of security personnel have been killed in armed clashes, rocket attacks and bombings carried out by suspected rebels in different parts of the restless province.

"If they [security agencies] have not arrested our sons and brothers, then where are they?" asked Farzana Majeed, another female Baluch activist whose brother Zakir Majeed, a student leader, went missing three years ago.

"I don't know whether he's dead or alive," Farzana saidof her lost brother.

Zakir, a prominent nationalist student leader and vice-chairman of the Baluch Students Organization went missing from Quetta in 2010.

"They [security agencies] have been killing and dumping the bodies of our youths for the last several years," Zakir's sister asserted. "I fear my brother might have been one of their victims."

"My struggle isn't only about bringing my brother back home, but it's also for thousands of other Baluchs who have gone missing, and their sisters, mothers and wives who don't know whether they're alive or dead," Farzana added, covering her face with a black sheet.

"It should be a matter of shame for the rulers [of Pakistan] that the daughters of the nation have to[stage demonstrations] for the safety and release of their brothers, sons and fathers," she said.

Factotum

The man behind the just-ended march is Qadeer Baluch, a former banker whose son Jaleel Reki was found brutally tortured to death in 2011.

"In a way, I'm lucky because at least I know that my son is no longer in this world," Qadeer, looking old and weather-beaten, told AA.

Drenched in sweat and hardly able to speak due to the grueling 750km march, Qadeer said he had been threatened by the security agencies to abandon the idea.

"I'm not at all scared. I've lost my son, but I will keep fighting for the sons of others," he said. "We want to tell the people of this country how we're being subjected to state repression."

Qadeer voiced disappointment with his old comrade and Baluchistan's incumbent chief minister, Abdul Malik Baluch.

"He came to me and said he had become chief minister," Qadeer recalled. "I told him in terse words that when he succeeded in getting the missing persons released, only then would I consider him chief minister."

"Otherwise, he's just a factotum like his predecessors," Qadeer said of Abdul Malik, a veteran nationalist leader whose  National Party emerged as the second largest grouping in the provincial assembly in May general elections.

The largest majority party in Baluchistan's provincialassembly is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML). However, the post of provincial chief was nevertheless given to a Baluch nationalist leader in a bid to woo separatists away from armed struggle and into mainstream politics.

Last month, however, Abdul Malik admitted at a press conference that he had failed to resolve the issue ofmissing persons.

"Until the issue… is resolved, the militants can't be persuaded to abandon the armed struggle," he had said at the time.

Since 1948, Baluchistan has witnessed several waves of armed struggle. The current wave of violence was triggered by the 2006 killing of former Baluchistan chief minister Nawab Akbar Bugti in a military operation ordered by former strongman Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf is currently on trial for the murder of the veteran Baluch leader.

Last Mod: 23 Kasım 2013, 09:52
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