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Lest we forget

by Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Zakir Majeed, Abdul Hamid Jamal, Mehboob Wadhela, Faiz Mohammad Marri and hundreds of other Baloch — it is impossible to name all — are missing. The unrestrained impunity with which they are disappeared, tortured and then thrown along highways just shows the epoch that the perpetrators suppose they live in

Qambar Chakar’s story begins on July 10, 2008 when he, Khurshid Baloch and Qayyum Baloch, then studying in Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUITMS), began a hunger strike unto death to protest the discriminatory admission policy. Based on open merit for the entire Balochistan, it meant that students from backwaters could not even hope to enter BUITMS. Qambar and his protesting companions wanted the open merit to be devolved to district level to afford equal opportunities to all areas.

This university, then six years old, had some 3,000 students enrolled in five faculties. Seventy percent of the students were from Balochistan. Its stated policy, “Admission is purely on merit without any distinction of race, religion, colour or ethnic origin provided the learner meets the entry requirements,” was deceptively just and fair. Certainly, a student from Dalbandin could not compete with a Quetta elite school student.

Qambar Chakar and protestors believed it was aimed at excluding Baloch students from acquiring higher education. He elucidated his stance candidly: “Though 70 percent open merit is fixed for the entire province, 62 percent of the seats were secured by the Quetta city students where the majority of the population is that of the non-Baloch elite.” He added that only nine percent students admitted to the 2008 BUITMS Spring Programme were Baloch. He said this merit system deprived 70 percent of Baloch districts of higher education because those students, unable to compete with elite school students, would always remain deprived.

His co-hunger strikers also articulated the reasons for their extreme measure. Stating that the open-merit at the Bolan Medical College and the Engineering University in Khuzdar, both professional schools just like the BUITMS, had been devolved to the districts, thus giving opportunity to students of all districts, they demanded a similar policy at BUITMS.

When the condition of the hunger strikers worsened, they were taken to the Governor’s House by the protesting students on stretchers. The governor asked the representatives of the protestors to meet him but the protesting students demanded that negotiations should be held in front of everybody. He eventually came out to meet the protestors but rejected their demands and said a committee consisting of all political parties would meet and discuss it soon. The protesting students reaffirmed that if the Baloch students did not get the opportunity to study, they would not willingly allow others to reap the benefits. They were ready to sacrifice their careers as examinations were scheduled for July 21.

On July 21, after 11 days of fasting, when the condition of the striking students deteriorated further, Balochistan Assembly Speaker Aslam Bhootani and some members came with a notification and constituted a committee in which representatives nominated by the Baloch students were also included. They also agreed to change the existing system, so the strike was called off. They may have honestly promised change but they do not decide, so, to date, that policy remains unchanged.

Qambar Chakar was now a marked man as were other activists including Qambar Malik and Tariq Karim. These two were named in the FIR of burning of buses. Qambar Malik was arrested and later released while Tariq Karim went underground; unfortunately, he was arrested on October 21, 2010 and is still missing. His brother Asim Karim, a student in Multan, addressed a press conference in Quetta on October 26, protesting his brother’s arrest. On his way home from a wedding on October 30, he was injured by the security forces’ firing and taken away. His dead body was recovered from Khanozai area on November 1, 2010.

Qambar Chakar Baloch, 24, member of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) central committee, was an economics student at BUITMS. He was first abducted on July 10, 2009 in Quetta on trumped up charges of possessing a grenade, but released on April 22, 2010, after a long series of agitations and protests. You certainly cannot expect the tortured to sing paeans of their torturers. He was abducted the second time on November 26, 2010 from Shahi Tump Turbat with his cousin Irshad Baloch.

On January 5, 2011, the brutally tortured dead bodies of Qambar Chakar Baloch and Ilyas Nazar Baloch were recovered in Pedark near Turbat. Ilyas Nazar was also a journalist. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) termed it an act of barbarism and said killings had made it almost impossible for Balochistan journalists to perform their professional assignments without fear.

The tragedy that the Baloch people face due to enforced disappearances of their loved ones came across ever more poignantly with the death of Qambar and Ilyas because a day before, when General Kayani had turned the Sui Cantonment to a military college, which he termed as a gift from the army to the Baloch people, making it even more permanent and therefore more disagreeable to the Baloch, Governor Magsi had surprised all, perhaps himself as well, by his demand that steps be taken for the recovery of missing people. He had said, “It is a very serious and important issue of Balochistan and should be resolved without any delay,” and asked, “Where are these missing people? It is the right of their families to know their whereabouts.” He stressed if they were in the custody of a civilian agency or with the ISI and MI, they should be handed over to police and tried in a court.

What message this appearance of two prominent activists’ bodies after his appeal was supposed to deliver could be better interpreted by Governor Magsi, but the Baloch think that it was meant to emphasise that no appeal is likely to be heeded. The issue of missing persons deserves attention and condemnation of all but is, sadly, ignored. No one, not even Governor Magsi, uttered a word about these killings. This horrible silence accords legitimacy of sorts to the atrocities.

Zakir Majeed, Abdul Hamid Jamal, Mehboob Wadhela, Faiz Mohammad Marri and hundreds of other Baloch — it is impossible to name all — are missing. The unrestrained impunity with which they are disappeared, tortured and then thrown along highways just shows the epoch that the perpetrators suppose they live in. The greater tragedy is that they have transformed it into a reality and can get away with it. The pain, agony and trauma of the missing persons and their families should never be forgotten. We all would do well to remember that:

“Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small;

Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at