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The state’s penchant for turning a molehill into a mountain has been on ‘glorious’ display in Islamabad these past few days. The death in the custody of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in Balochistan of a young man, Balaach Mola Baksh, aroused the anger and indignation of his family, the families of other missing persons and right thinking citizens to such an extent that, after holding protests in Turbat, they decided, under the lead of the Baloch Yakjehti Council to undertake a protest long march to Islamabad against the persisting phenomenon of enforced disappearances, torture in custody and extra-judicial ‘kill and dump’ disposal of suspected militants since the fifth Baloch nationalist insurgency broke out in 2002.

The route of the long march took them to Quetta, then via the Marri area (Kohlu), Barkhan, D G Khan, D I Khan to Islamabad. Along the way, the long march protestors were harassed by armed men (identity not revealed), local administrations’ blocking of roads to prevent the marchers moving forward, cancellation of transport by the authorities and several arrests on the charge of raising anti-state slogans. All these efforts of the state, however, proved unable to halt the long march, which finally arrived in the federal capital.

This is neither the first nor, if present trends and practices persist, likely to be the last of such protests against enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings (often after severe torture) in Balochistan for the last two decades.

What is unique about this march though is that it is being led by women. This punctures our presumption of Balochistan as a backward tribal society. Earlier, Gwadar’s Haq Dau (give us our rights) movement too was overwhelmingly led by and composed of women.

This relatively new trend in Balochistan is owed to two factors. One, when men attempt to protest against the same crimes of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, they face extreme harassment and worse. Second, since the overwhelming majority of missing persons in Balochistan are men, those left behind are their women to take up the banner of seeking justice against such illegal and unconstitutional repressive actions by the state.

The women of Balochistan have earned the respect and trust of the people of Balochistan through their principled, uncompromising stand. Two, unlike similar protests in the past led by Mama Qadeer, et al, support for this protest long march has spread across all the provinces both because ethnic Baloch living in areas outside Balochistan are being visited by the same unwanted attentions of the state, and because the just and rightful nature of the protest has aroused the indignation and anger of all communities throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Having said all this, one cannot but hang one’s head in shame at the treatment meted out by the police in Islamabad to these peaceful protestors. Women, children and even the elderly were not spared water cannons, heavy batons beatings and roughing up before being bundled into police vans to be taken…no one knows where.

The IG Islamabad received a rightful dose of scorn and derision from the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court when he unashamedly and blatantly lied through his teeth in claiming that the women protestors arrested had ‘chosen’ to be taken to and enjoy a sojourn in Islamabad’s police stations.

Undeterred by the rocket he received from the bench, the IG then claimed some arrested women had been taken to a women’s hostel, a statement that still awaits credible affirmation. Perhaps the IG’s training in dissembling with the truth, and that too before the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, leaves something to be desired.

The unnecessary and brutal treatment of the peaceful protestors left the caretaker government with egg on its face. It then attempted a damage control exercise through appointing a committee led by caretaker minister and former bureaucrat Fawad Ahmad Fawad to ‘negotiate’ with the protesters and somehow defuse the highly embarrassing situation for our ‘care’ takers.

This committee then held a press conference with the same IG sitting cheek by jowl with them to make tall claims about the release of the protestors while sneaking in a word or two about the local troublemakers who had allegedly sneaked into the protesters’ sit-in and were held responsible for sparking the police response by throwing stones.

The problem with this mountain of half-truths, untruths and plain and unvarnished lies is that today’s world is no longer dependent on ‘official’ information. If the mainstream media, already under the censorship cosh, covered these events in a restrained manner, social media laid bare the ugly visage of the state’s brutality against the peaceful protesters. In today’s world gentlemen, in case it has escaped your notice, it has become impossible to hide or distort the truth.

While some protestors have been released, at least 100 are still ‘missing’ (ironically having thus joined the ranks of those they stood up for in the first place!). But why single out the Islamabad police and caretaker administration. Balochistan has been dealt with exclusively with brutal force since the day Pakistan came into existence. The grievances of the Baloch are of a political nature (which of course includeseconomic and social issues) but have always been dealt with by the use of brutal force and bloody suppression.

If this trend, exemplified once again by the events in Islamabad adumbrated above, continues, the state will have no one but itself to blame for driving more and more of the people of Balochistan into the arms of the nationalist insurgents who, having despaired of the state’s ability or intent to deal fairly and politically with their grievances, are increasingly declaring themselves for the right of self-determination, including independence.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

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