Sabeen Mahmud, described as a peace activist and founder of The Second Floor (T2F), was shot dead on Friday after hosting a talk on Balochistan. Her guests included the now infamous Mama Qadeer, who was also the most prominent invitee at an earlier talk in LUMS. That talk was cancelled after intervention by the state, or the ISI.
The subject she highlighted right before her death, and the manner of it, suggests unusual bravery. It also puts an onus on the rest of us to discuss it more. Obviously Balochistan is too complex an issue to encompass in its entirety, especially for outsiders. We can though look at the information publicly available about the missing persons, as well as the insurgency, to at least draw some basic conclusions.
Mama Qadeer’s story is well known by now. His son, Jalil Reiki, was “disappeared” by state agencies and found dead 3 years later. One has to note that, appallingly, Mama Qadeer’s story is not unique. People in Balochistan - activists and those suspected of working with/being separatists - have been subjected to extra-judicial killings and disappearances for the better part of the last decade.
The number of such cases however is a contested issue, with a huge gulf between the claims by Baloch activists, HR bodies and the statistics of the govt. Mama Qadeer’s VBMP has always claimed the highest toll, which, according to the organisation, has climbed dramatically in the last 5 years.
In 2011 it was claimed by the organization that 8000 people had gone missing in Balochistan and 200 dead bodies had been found. However, they had complete data about 1,300. (In 2013, a US State Dept. Report noted that the VBMP had listed information on 2,627 missing persons.)
By 2012 VBMP’s claim of missing people had gone up to 14,385 and 400 dead bodies, an increase of more than 6,000 in one year. By the time of Mama Qadeer’s long march, VBMP had revised their figures to 18,000 and last month, April 2015, they increased it further to 21,000 missing, & another 6,000 dead.
It is not clear what is the number they have actual data on at this moment. The International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, an apparently separate organization working for the same cause, has provided names and general areas of residence for the people who have gone missing from Balochistan on its website. Their database has names of around 600 missing people.
The Baloch Republican Party lists around 70 missing persons. Jalil Reiki, Mama Qadeer's son, belonged to the BRP. The oldest victim listed is from 2009, so the data is probably partial.
In terms of official bodies, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) informed the Supreme Court that 982 missing persons had been traced in the last 4 years. According to CIED’s report 1,273 cases of enforced disappearances are still unresolved, with only 122 of them belonging to Balochistan.
The Balochistan Assembly was informed recently that 135 cases of missing persons are in court, while 80 had already been traced.
Defence of Human Rights, an NGO that traces missing people and has relatives of missing people included in its ranks, puts the number at 5,149. However their figure is of missing persons in the whole country, not just Balochistan.
HRCP have been vocal about the issue of Baloch missing persons, and HRCP’s IA Rehman was among the invitees of the cancelled LUMS talk. Two activists associated with HRCP are also among the extra-judicially killed in Balochistan.
The HRCP in its 2012 fact finding mission titled “Hopes Fears and Alienation in Balochistan” confirmed 198 cases of missing people in Balochistan. These include those released and those still missing, and there is some overlap with those whose dead bodies had already turned up. A full list with each victim’s name & status is provided at the end.
The word “overlap” is used because sometimes the bodies that turn up are not accounted for in the missing persons. For example, the report gives a breakdown of the disappearances in the Makran area. 148 cases of disappearances had come to the attention of HRCP since 2004, 103 of them had been released. However, 60 dead bodies had also turned up.
Perhaps these can be accounted for if we include the work of alleged “death squads”. In addition to the disappearances phenomenon, activists blame state agencies for raising and/or empowering “death squads”. Comprised of religious outfit cadres or pro-establishment Baloch Sardars, in some cases the two working in tandem, these are armed elements that seek out & kill dissident or separatist elements.
Coming back to the actual number of missing persons in Balochistan, it can be observed that government figures, plus those of rights bodies, IVBMP and the inquiry commission all hover well below the 1,000 mark. The number claimed by VBMP, i.e. 21000, is not backed by most other resources available on the matter, not even by the documentation they apparently possess.
Similarly, the VBMP claim of 6000 dead is a significant climb from their earlier figures. It also offers significant contrast when put beside other sources. For example, Balochistan assembly was informed that in the last 5 years 612 dead bodies had been found in the province, 373 of them Baloch.
The IVBMP’s database on extra-judicial killings of the Baloch consists of around 210 names. Baloch Republican Party has names of around 100.
According to data compiled by SATP, 153 dumbed bodies were recovered from Balochistan in 2014. This was much higher than the average because of discovery of 3 mass graves. The 2013 number for bodies found is 39.
It is not unlikely that a relatives of many missing people do not come forward, or those who have been released after being held & tortured don’t speak out, for fear of renewing their ordeal. It is though unlikely that such cases can account for a difference of around 20,000 missing persons, and 5000 dead.
P.S: There are undeniably thousands of displaced Baloch, largely from Dera Bugti. They fled fighting when the army & Akbar Bugti faced off, or have been expelled because the security forces believe them to be loyal to the late Nawab & responsible for sabotaging activities.
Part-2 to follow.