In 1999 when Pakistani military dictator Prevez Musharraf seized power, his first target was Balochistan. He declared a war against Baloch people across Balochistan by arresting prominent Baloch leaders and threatening others to hit them in way they would not have imagined. He threatened the Baloch that it was not the 70s forgetting the fact that it was not 70s for Baloch either. Baloch youth were prepared and expecting what Musharraf initiated. He started military offensives targeting first Marri and Bugti regions. Pakistani army and state thought that would be the end of the Baloch. But it turned out to be the beginning of the end of Punjabi colonialism in Balochistan. The movement spread fast to all corners of eastern occupied Balochistan.
Unable to face the Baloch resistance organisations and Baloch freedom fighters, the Pakistani army unleashed their anger on Baloch civilian population. Hundreds including women and children have been killed due to Pakistan Air Force’s indiscriminate bombardment, thousands have been arrested and disappeared and several thousand have been forcefully displaced from their native homes.
The resistance this time is more organised, widespread and better equipped than it was in 70s. The Baloch youths’ reaction to Musharraf’s imposed war was swift and resilient. The arrogant military general instead of realising his mistake continued his killing spree, abductions and displacement of Baloch people. Thousands of Baloch activists were abducted by his regime. Aftab Sherpao, his interior minister, had admitted the arrest of 4000 Baloch activists. The number of missing Baloch people now ranges between 15000 -18000.
It was this growing abduction of Baloch activists followed by in-custody killings that compelled the families of these victims to set up an organisation for a peaceful and democratic campaign for the release of their loved ones. The campaign became stronger from 2009 onwards when Pakistan military started its systematic kill and dump policy. In April 2009 within a week of abducting three well-known Baloch political leaders Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammad were murdered under-custody – their bodies were found in Murgaap area of Turbat in Balochistan. This incident set up a trend about the victims of this heinous policy, after abducting them they are kept in isolation and tortured in many cases to death or killed in cold-blood. The abductors then dump their mutilated bodies in deserted areas or by road sides.
On 13 February 2009 Pakistan army and secret agencies abducted Jalil Reki Baloch from Saryab Road area in Quetta. Mr Jalil Reki was son of Abdul Qadeer Reki, the Vice chairman of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. He was also a senior leader of Baloch Republican Party. It was this incident that compelled Qadeer Baloch to rally other families to form an organisation – the Voice of the Baloch Missing Persons. The VBMP comprises the family members of abducted Baloch activists and it is trying to collect the data of all abducted and extra-judicially killed Baloch persons. They exhausted all democratic means of struggle including peaceful protests, knocking the doors of judiciary and going from one police station to another. They have also started a token hunger strike and camped outside the Quetta, Islamabad and Karachi Press Clubs. Their protest has been consistent and they are determined to achieve their objective which is to fight for the release of the missing persons.
Pakistani institutions including the judiciary have miserably failed to deliver justice to the families of abducted Baloch. The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons has lost faith in Pakistan’s judiciary and they rejected all the judicial commissions that have been set to supposedly find out about the fate of missing persons. They have now pinned their hopes to the wider world including the UN and international media to help them bring their loved ones back home.
In an interview with Daily Tawar, an Urdu daily, Qadeer Baloch said the VBMP succeeded in internationalising the issue of enforced-disappearances in Balochistan. As result of VBMP protest a team of UN WGEID (Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances) visited Pakistan and Balochistan in September 2012. This was the first ever visit of a high level UN mission to visit Balochistan in relation to the missing people. They did detailed interviews with leaders of Voice for Baloch Missing persons and families of the victims.
On 26 October 2013 the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons announced a long march from Quetta to Karachi to make their voice heard. Several Baloch men, women and children are participating in this walk to find out the truth about fate of the missing Baloch activists. Baloch youth are terming this march a historical step in Baloch struggle. Almost all the Baloch nationalist political parties and leaders have announced their support for the long march. The response from the people on way has been overwhelming and the participants of long march are being greeted as heroes.
On November 4, the marchers and visited the grave of Qadeer Baloch’s son Jalil Reki. Large number of Baloch families and tribal elders joined them to continue their journey towards Karachi. At Khaliq Abad area Qadeer Baloch and Banuk Farzana Majeed Baloch, the sister of abducted Zakir Majeed Baloch addressed the participants of the protest. Farzana Baloch strongly criticised the electronic and print media for not giving coverage to their long march. She said: “The media should tell us what our fault is and why are they ignoring our march for the release of our loved ones. We have been marching for last eight days but the media is completely silent and by ignoring our peaceful and democratic protest the media is pushing us against the wall.”
Qadeer Baloch told the participants that many people were bothered by the popularity of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons long march and they have started to pressurise families of the participants, adding that: “houses of several people have been raided for supporting the long march.” He also said: “Those who thought we will get tired in a day or two should know that blood is gashing from the feet of our sisters and daughters but they are determined to continue the march at all costs.”
The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons has already made history by completing 1311 days of their peaceful and democratic protest for the release of missing Baloch activists. Their decision for a long march from Quetta to Karachi has made it a unique protest in the history of Balochistan. Baloch should be proud of this 70 year old man, Mama Qadeer, who has embarked on a journey that many of us could not do. Baloch should also salute their brave sisters Farzana Majeed, Bibi Gul Baloch of BHRO (Baloch Human Rights Organisation) and the rest of the VBMP Long March team for their commitment and dedication.
As the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons team continues their journey towards Karachi the Baloch Diaspora communities and social media activists on twitter and Facebook are spreading awareness about the march using hashtag #VBMPLongMarch to bring the plight of Baloch missing persons to the attention of world community. The Baloch social media activists say the march is expected to reach Karachi on November, 21 where the leaders of long march will have a press conference. It is hoped that Pakistani and the international media, human rights organisation, members of civil society, lawyers and people of Karachi will welcome the VBMP team and assure them of help for the rescue of their loved ones.
Faiz M Baluch is a student of journalism at Metropolitan University in London and a human rights activist affiliated with International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. He tweets at, twitter.com/FaizMBaluch and can be reached at FMBaluch@gmail.com