The Plight Of Baloch Missing Persons' Relatives Continues Amid Authorities' Indifference

Every few weeks, families of missing Baloch persons set up camps to demand the recovery and return of their missing loved ones, some of whom have been forcibly disappeared for years. They move from one city to the other, hundreds of miles from their homes, to share their plight and in attempts to persuade the government to find their missing family members. To date, however, their efforts always seem to fall on deaf ears.

According to a 2019 report issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, titled "Balochistan: Neglected Still", Mama Qadeer, the vice president of Voice for Baloch Missing Persons claimed that as many as 47,000 Baloch have gone missing in the past two decades. Although there is some disagreement on this number, the question is whether even a single forced disappearance can be justified, while the family of the victim is kept in dark regarding his or her whereabouts and even whether he or she is alive or dead. It is said that there is hardly any home in Balochistan where a relative or a loved one has not been picked up. People invariably live in the constant fear of losing their loved ones to such extrajudicial abductions any day and at any time.

Even though the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, which was founded in 2011 to trace missing people and to bring responsible organisations and individuals to account, has been able to trace a few missing persons, it has made no apparent effort to bring the culprits to account. At the same time, thousands of people still remain missing, which indicates an almost complete failure of the commission to carry out its function.

Earlier in October 2020, the Supreme Court declared the report submitted by Balochistan police about five missing people unsatisfactory and directed them to recover these disappeared persons. Yet, these were only five cases; what about the rest of the thousands of people? When will they be ordered to be recovered? This is the question frequently raised by activists.

Every year, a protest is staged on June 8 to mark the annual Baloch missing person day. The event has an atmosphere of great sadness with women, young and old, carrying posters of their missing family members while comforting wailing children. Mothers and sisters of disappeared persons sit alone and brave yet another year of the system’s indifference. There is no elected representative on their side and no media coverage is afforded to these grieving individuals. Although many Baloch stories make it to social media every now and then, in the absence of mainstream media attention, these stories largely remain unheard.

The demands of these families are simply that their loved ones are brought back to them and that the law is allowed to take its course to serve them justice. A camp has been established in Islamabad this week with a few of the families even asking to be informed once and for all if their loved ones are dead so that they can let go of their plunging unhappiness and mourning.

It is very easy to sit in the comfort of our homes and to play blame games like so many of us do, but very difficult to imagine losing a loved one and being in their position. The least we can do at this moment is to raise our voice for them and to lend them support because silence is an act of oppression itself. Silence is not only powerless to change the world; rather, it changes our own selves, the silent ones, as it shrinks us into inconsequential beings and allows for our stories to be buried alive. Let us remember Martin Niemoller's powerful words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.