Baloch women vs Pakistan

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The conflict between Islamabad and the Baloch has a history of the former’s insistence on running Balochistan as a place suspended in time where standard governance rules are not applied. The recent phase of this conflict started in 2005 with the rape of Doctor Shazia Khalid by an army captain in Sui that enraged Bugti tribesmen, who considered this as an act against Baloch traditions. After they demanded justice for the victim, the then military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, declared war on the tribe rather than letting the accused officer face trial in courts. This was in a way the beginning of the two-decade-long military oppression in Balochistan. Thousands of Baloch political activists were abducted and killed. Many more have been in the secret agencies’ illegal custody for years.

Because most victims of enforced disappearance are men, those who have to protest for their release are the women of their families. They protest peacefully and beg the state to produce the victims before a judge if they have done anything wrong, a fair demand. But it seems that Pakistan’s military establishment is hellbent on silencing all voices and shutting down the last remaining venues of peaceful political activism. This is a bleak development for Balochistan and will only increase the socio-psychological stress. Baloch women and children should not be targeted for their human rights advocacy and peaceful protests. It is not only against international law but also in conflict with the Pakistan’s constitution, which guarantees protection against arbitrary arrests, torture and state violence.

If the state does not respect the social contract to protect its citizens, the Baloch can rightfully question the basis of the federation. Instead of abducting innocent women and children, the state should stop human rights violations and pay heed to the legitimate Baloch demands for political, economic and cultural autonomy. It has to release all the missing persons and punish those behind such illegal acts. Islamabad should know from experience that brute force will not lead to the resolution of this conflict. On the contrary, it will only make an already bad situation worse.

This month so far, the security forces first abducted Rashida Zahri along with her octogenarian mother and two toddlers. The woman and children were released later, but her husband, Mohmad Rahim Zehri, is still missing. A few days later, human rights activist Mahal Baloch and her two children were abducted from her house in the middle of the night from Quetta, Balochistan. Mahal is the sister-in-law of Bibi Gul Baloch, the chairperson of the Balochistan Human Rights Council, a Sweden-based human rights organization that does advocacy and data collection regarding human right violations in Balochistan.

We all can imagine how tough it must be for Bibi Gul’s family and hundreds of others who have to directly suffer. Personally, whenever I go on social media, it takes a toll on me despite living outside Pakistan and seemingly out of the reach of its authorities. I see only suffering. I have been trying to conclude this piece for the last few days, but the conclusion seemed impossible. Not because I was trying to play with words, but because one abduction, one mutilated body, followed another so fast that it became almost impossible to keep track of the events. First, Zia Langove, Balochistan’s home minister, said that Mahal would not get any concession for being a woman because everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Simultaneously a short video clip of a poor Baloch woman Granaaz Marri was doing rounds on social media. She held the holy Quran and pleaded to be rescued from the private prison of Zia langove’s colleague, the provincial minister Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran, who is notorious for his brutality, and allegedly is a military proxy and death squad leader. Before I could conclude this piece, we received the news of three bodies being found in a well; two of the victims were young men, and the third was Granaaz. They lingered for years in Sardar Abdul Rehman’s private prison and were eventually killed and thrown into a well. Khetran will once again get away with murder because he has the backing of Pindi, a true privilege. Mahal, Granaaz and other Baloch women do not have that privilege nor do they desire for it.

Zia Langove should know that Baloch women don’t expect special treatment. They just want to not suffer at the hands of a profoundly corrupt and repressive army that arbitrarily uses force without being bothered about consequences. He should know that these women grew up in protest camps missing their childhood, schools and any semblance of normal life. They are also burdened with raising their kids alone and living like widows while their husbands linger in torture cells or are killed and thrown in unnamed graves by the military and its proxies. When every hope of getting justice for their missing loved ones or making it out of a rapist and cruel army-backed sardar’s private prison seems impossible, they resort to social media holding the holy Quran, still hoping there might be a shred of humanity left in this country and those in power will wake up for once at least.

I want to tell Zia Langove that Baloch women never get a pass for being women. Even when they are dead, their spirit is still alive, still struggling for justice. For example, my younger sisters have been trying to place a tombstone on our sister Karima Baloch’s grave for the last three years. They still haven’t succeeded because they are not allowed by those who are your and Khetran’s real masters, the generals in Pindi who run Balochistan like a private state. And now Granaaz Marri’s body has made it to Quetta from a well in Barkhan for another round of protests. You see, respected home minister, Baloch women never get special treatment or break even in death. The generals and their crony sardars are immune to justice, not Mahals, Granaaz or Karimas of Balochistan.