Balochistan is on fire and no one is watching!

Balochistan is not Pakistan

Pakistan’s Daily Times editorially asked a very apt question, “Who in their right mind would treat those who turned to their own government for answers about their loved ones as hostile enemies?” The editorial continued on a strident note that the police in Islamabad must have had an “extraordinary sense of impunity” to welcome women travelling across the length and breadth of Pakistan to register protest “with water hoses, tear gas and baton charges”. It, therefore, does not come as a surprise that police action against peaceful protestors in Pakistan’s capital in December 2023 sparked a wave of condemnation from all corners. Not just that, tweets from Baluchistan show protests and rallies across the region and Dr. Mahrang Baloch addressing huge numbers of peaceful protestors in Quetta. The Pakistani state thus faces a new challenge, one that is unlikely to go away any time soon.

Tens of thousands gathered near Baluchistan University in Quetta (24 January 2024) to welcome the participants of the Turbat long march, returning from Islamabad, The gathering on 25 January was mostly attended by young students, elderly people and children. The gathering was addressed by Dr. Mahrang Baloch. The Dawn newspaper reported (28 January) that after finishing the protests in Islamabad, the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) leader, Dr Mahrang Baloch, addressed a massive public gathering in Quetta and said a “revolution” was brewing in Balochistan. The triumphant return of the Long Marchers from Islamabad shows the strength, emotions and perseverance of the Baluch people. There is little doubt that the Pakistan government’s decision to force protestors to go back to Baluchistan can only be described as shooting in one’s own foot. Islamabad Chief Justice’s had correctly emphasised on the constitutional right of the protestors to “stay in Islamabad, protest or go home”, could be treated as a refresher course for the Pakistani government. Ironically, the main demand of the protestors in Islamabad, putting an end to forced disappearances and violations of human rights, has gone missing.

Given the intensity of feeling amongst the Baluch people for their cause this time and the usual attitude of the government, the talks between the two naturally hit a roadblock, with the former claiming that authorities had not yet released all individuals participating in the protest highlighting the issue of Baluch missing persons. Through December 2023, participants of the BYC march continued their protest outside Islamabad’s National Press Club. They noted that despite issuing a three-day ultimatum to the government for the release of those arrested during the march, discussions had made no progress. The BYC had come to the forefront after the alleged killing by the ISI of Baluch activist Karima Baloch in a river in Canada. Now, Mahrang Baloch has emerged as the new leader of the BYC, enjoying support from various ethnic parties. She is the daughter of Abdul Ghafar Lango. Another prominent figure in the BYC is Sammi Deen, the daughter of Dr Deen Mohammad Baloch.

Importantly, the current protests cover the entire province of Baluchistan. December last year witnessed huge protests and the province remained cut off from Sindh and Punjab.  Demonstrations occurred in Turbat, Panjgur, Naal, Uthal, Hub, Gadani, Dera Bugti, D.G. Khan, and others, following the BYC’s call for solidarity with the long marchers. Shops and businesses in Turbat and Makran were closed, traffic flow was disrupted, and a wheel-jam strike occurred. Protesters blocked the Quetta-Karachi National Highway in Mangochar, Kalat, and Khuzdar. In Hub’s Bhawani area, women activists blocked the highway, causing a 36-hour traffic standstill between Khuzdar and Hub. Panjgur observed a shutter-down strike, supported by the All Traders’ Committee. Uthal witnessed blocked highways connecting Quetta with Karachi.

When the protestors reached Islamabad, the BYC on their social media platform issued a statement saying that over 100 Baluch students were “missing” after the crackdown on the march by the police. “Nearly 350 of our students and families were arrested…the females and 33 students were granted bail the next day, while more than 250 of our students are still in jail…more than 100 still have not been presented before court,” it claimed. Protesters demanded the withdrawal of all cases registered in different cities against the participants of the long march and urged the Islamabad Police to release their companions. The protesters said their mo­vement will continue till the release of missing students and acceptance of the demands of their long march. They also iss­ued a charter of demands, see­king a fact-finding mission hea­ded by a UN Working Group for a detailed investigation into rights violations in Baluchistan.

The angst of the Baluch people has been represented most admirably by author and journalist Muhammad Hanif, who in solidarity with the Baluch community, returned ‘Sitara-i-Imtiaz’. “In protest, returning my Sitara e Imtiaz, given to me by a state that continues to abduct and torture Baloch citizens. Journalists of my generation have seen @SammiBaluch and @MahrangBaloch_ grow up in protest camps. Ashamed to witness a new generation being denied basic dignity,” he said in a post on X. There is thus a genuine feeling of anger against the Pakistani state amongst the Baluch people. With the protests in Baluchistan continuing the fate of the electoral vote on 8 February in Pakistan’s largest Province appears to be in doubt.

Whatever the outcome, one must respect the leaders and participants of the Long March. They have carried on the struggle against the Pak state, in the footsteps of their ancestors and improved on their strategies. The right to peaceful protest has been reinforced and a message driven home that they cannot be taken for granted forever. The message from Dr. Mahrang Baloch is loud and clear. Speaking in Quetta, at a public gathering recently, she said those in power were “deaf and dumb” who do not listen to the people. She added, “They have weapons, but we have the courage to continue our struggle against the atrocities and injustices,” vowing that the movement would continue and they would not abandon it. She claimed the government used all its resources against the protestors, but they refused to budge from their demands.

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024