By Rabia Ali
Published: December 10, 2011

ABDUCTED: 5,000to 6,000 is the number of people ‘missing’ in Balochistan, according to the HRCP. PHOTO: REUTERS.

KARACHI: What is happening in the largest province of the country remains behind a veil of secrecy. There are some who dare to speak, but only if their privacy is protected. For “to be a Baloch openly is to embrace death,” says one such woman.

Sarah* is one of thousands of victims of oppression in Balochistan to whom the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has dedicated this year’s Human Rights Day (today).

Speaking to The Express Tribune by telephone from Quetta, Sarah, 35, cannot hold back her tears when narrating the story of her province, which she says has changed colours over the years – from dusty brown to blood red.

Working for a development NGO for seven years put her in the line of fire of intelligence agencies, she says, who claimed she was an agent of an Indian intelligence agency.

In 2008, she says she was forced to quit her job and put under house arrest. Men in white shalwar kameez surrounded her house and her phones were tapped for three years, she says. Threats and harassment followed everywhere before she was granted freedom. “I am a teacher and I believe in fighting for my rights. But, for how long? I don’t know.”

Many houses in her neighbourhood have seen worse. Young boys with an eye pulled out return home in a white shroud after being picked up, allegedly by security agencies.

However, there are the lucky ones who return home alive. Two boys who went missing and miraculously returned were not willing to talk. “Our phones are tapped. Please leave us alone,” they said.

Families of those who have died or have been abducted are unwilling to speak for fear that their words might take the life of another beloved one.

This situation in Balochistan has made thousands leave the province. According to HRCP’s estimates, around 100,000 people have left since 2007.

A surgeon who moved from Quetta to Karachi says her brother was picked up and charged with false cases when he was in college in Quetta. He was lucky enough to escape to a foreign country, while all his friends met the fate of death. “Raids and kidnappings are the story of every house,” she said. Locals believe that the younger generation is being targeted. “They are trying to scare generations so that they don’t raise their voice for their rights.”

Vice chairperson of the HRCP’s Balochistan chapter, Tahir Hussain, says from July 2010 to November 2011, around 300 dead bodies were found—some even of 14-year-olds. Two dead include two people from the HRCP as well, while the number of people missing range from 5,000 to 6,000.

While locals stay indoors, leaders fighting for the separatist movements remain miles away from the danger zone. Balochistan National Party leader Akhtar Mengal is in Dubai since 2009. “If I come back, my name will be included in the ECL and I need to go abroad for a lung treatment,” he said.

Despite the top leadership being away, he sees the separatist movements growing stronger. He claims that 26 people from his own party have been killed.

The separatist movements gained momentum after Akbar Bugti’s death. “Bugti’s national flag had four stars representing the four provinces. He believed in a federation. But by his murder, the government has given the message that Balochistan will never be accepted.”

Sarah, the surgeon and Akhtar Mengal are sure of one thing:  ‘There is no foreign presence or Indian agents in the province. It’s our own men behind the killings.’

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2011.