On December 6, 2023, a march titled ‘March Against Baloch Genocide’ commenced from Turbat, district Kech, following the alleged fake encounter of Balach Mola Baksh and three others by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD). The family of Balach Mola Baksh has claimed that on October 29, 2023, the CTD police raided their home late at night and took Balach into custody without a clear First Information Report (FIR) against him. They also asserted that Balach was subsequently presented before a judicial magistrate in Turbat on November 21 by the CTD officials with a false FIR charging him with carrying five kilograms of explosives, and the court had remanded him into police custody for ten days pending future orders.
Unfortunately for the family, on November 23, 2023, the CTD of the Pakistan police claimed to have killed four individuals linked to Baloch armed groups in an encounter in Turbat, Balochistan. It quickly became evident that these victims—identified as Balach Mola Baksh, Saif Baloch, Shakoor Baloch, and Wadood Baloch—had been previously abducted by the CTD, raising questions about the authenticity of the encounter. In light of the alleged fake encounter involving Balach by CTD officials, the Turbat Bar Association staged a day-long boycott of local courts on November 24. They expressed dissatisfaction with the disobedience of court orders, accusing the missing persons of being militants, and strongly condemned the incident. Meanwhile, the incident raised questions about how Balach could be considered a militant when he was supposed to be in police custody.
Helplessly, Balach’s family, along with the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) and other human rights organizations, conducted a 13-day sit-in protest at Shaheedd Fida Ahmed Chowk in Turbat, Kech, keeping Balach’s corpse to demand justice. Throughout their protest, a significant number of people, particularly women and children from various areas, joined in solidarity. They collectively demanded the dismantling of the CTD and an end to the systematic killings of Baloch individuals.
Ironically, despite the local court confirming Balach’s killing as a fake encounter, no FIR was filed against the police officers from the CTD involved in the incident.
After several days of their sit-in protest and a wheel jam strike across the entire Makran division, Deputy Commissioner of Turbat, Hussain Jan, District Chairman Hothman, and former minister Lala Rasheed Dashti approached the protesters in an attempt to negotiate an end to the sit-in protest. Unfortunately, the negotiations failed as they were unable, despite their various roles, to register an FIR against the CTD officials.
During this time, numerous human rights activists had joined the sit-in protest in Turbat from various areas of Balochistan. Among them were leaders of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP); Mama Qadeer and Sammi Deen, Dr. Sabiha, the former chairman of the Baloch Students Action Committee (BSAC); Balach Qadir, the chairman of the Baloch Student Organization (BSO); along with many other activists and senior members of the Haq-Do-Tehrik. However, Balach’s body was laid to rest on the eighth day of the protest, seeking justice from the government of Balochistan. Finally, Balach’s family decided to bury him, whereas the sit-in protest continued and even got strengthened day by day. During the sit-in protest, VBMP also started registration of all those people who had been forcibly disappeared for months or even for decades and had not been registered with VBMP before. Eventually, the district authorities were unable to provide justice to the mourning family, so BYC finally organized a long march from Turbat to the capital city of Balochistan, Quetta under the leadership of Sami Deen. They were warmly welcomed by the other villagers on their way to Quetta.
The marchers engaged in writing slogans on walls, organized extensive protests and rallies against the alleged fake encounters by the CTD, and demanded the release of all forcibly abducted individuals by security forces in the areas through which they passed. These areas included Shapuk, Sharak, Tejaban, Hoshab, Panjgur, Nag, Besima, Gresha, Nal, Khuzdar, Surab, Kalat, Mastung, and finally, Quetta. VBMP also documented the names of all abducted people in the areas they travelled through en route to Quetta.
Regarding the Kech bar council’s stance, while they assert that CTD killed Balach in their custody, no FIR has been filed against CTD officials yet. Throughout this lengthy journey, however, FIRs were lodged in many districts against the protesters and local residents who welcomed the long march. These individuals registered their forcibly disappeared loved ones, demanding their immediate release. In addition to registering FIRs against them, roads were also blocked in Ferozabad and Kalat in an attempt to halt the march.
According to local administrations, FIRs were filed against those protesters and local residents simply because they chanted slogans against the CTD and other authorities illegally. However, the marchers firmly believe that all the authorities against whom slogans were chanted and walls were written on are directly or indirectly involved in the Baloch genocide. Despite all these hindrances, the marchers finally reached Quetta on December 11, 2023. They continued their sit-in protest on Sariab Road as the Red Zone was barricaded with containers, and multiple roads across the city were blocked. The protest on Sariab Road in Quetta persisted for four days. During their demonstration in Quetta, they organized protests, rallies, and seminars where numerous political leaders, advocates, and ordinary citizens joined them.
According to representatives of the Long March, their decision to march towards Islamabad stemmed from the perceived lack of seriousness exhibited by the provincial government. However, Balochistan’s Caretaker Information Minister, Jan Achakzai, acknowledged protesting as a constitutional right during negotiations, which unfortunately yielded no results.
Under the leadership of Dr. Mahrang Baloch, the march proceeded towards Islamabad. Along the way, the marchers received a warm and unprecedented welcome from the public in Kohlu, DG Khan, Taunsa Shareef, and other areas. However, both the marchers and locals were also subjected to FIRs in these areas. In DG Khan, eight students were arrested by police a day before the long march’s arrival. These students staged road blockades and protests until the release of local residents, vehemently condemning the Baloch genocide.
Despite overcoming various obstacles, when the marchers reached Islamabad, the police intercepted them and confiscated the keys to their cars before their entry into the city. Despite their resistance, they managed to enter Islamabad but were halted by police from proceeding to the National Press Club (NPC). Instead, the police offered them space at H-9 ground and F-9 park to stay, but Dr. Mahrang insisted on going to the NPC. When denied access, she asserted that if they were not allowed into the NPC, they would be compelled to continue their sit-in protest on Jinnah Avenue and Srinagar Highway, where the Islamabad police had initially stopped them.
Expressing their purpose for being in Islamabad and emphasizing that they didn’t come for entertainment, Dr. Mahrang stated during a live speech, “We want to go to the NPC to record our plights.” Despite their attempts, the police didn’t permit them, leading the protesters to continue their protest on the road where they were stopped.
Shortly after, social media footage surfaced, depicting security forces using water cannons, tear gas, and forcefully loading Baloch protesters into police vehicles from Avenue and Srinagar Highway, as well as from the NPC where people had gathered to welcome the march.
The next day, the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) claimed the arrest of over 200 students by the police from the NPC. Shockingly, journalist Somaiyah Hafeez, who was covering the march, was also apprehended by the police. These events raise serious concerns about the safeguarding of rights in Pakistan.
In response to the heavy-handedness and brutalities by the Islamabad police, the BYC announced a complete lockdown in various districts of Balochistan and organized protests and rallies. Major roads remained blocked until the release of the long march participants.
As videos of the incidents went viral on social media, several organizations and individuals, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the Norway Embassy in Pakistan, Amnesty International South Asia, and numerous politicians and human rights activists like Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Mehvish Ali, and others worldwide, condemned the autocratic and inhumane acts of the Islamabad police against peaceful protesters.
In response, the Islamabad Police released a statement on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), asserting, “There is an organized false information campaign launched against Islamabad Police. No women or children were subjected to any mistreatment at any time during the Baloch Yakjehti March on 21-22 December.”
The statement continued, “None of them was harmed at any place. False information has been circulated to gain temporary attention. All women had been sent with their relatives or friends with care.” However, videos circulating on social media served as evidence contradicting the Islamabad Police’s claims of non-violence.
Despite Mohammed Hanif, a distinguished Pakistani author and journalist, publicly announcing his decision to return his Sitara-e-Imtiaz, a civilian award bestowed upon him by the state, the situation remained grim. Hanif expressed his protest by stating on social media platform X, “In protest, I am returning my Sitara-e-Imtiaz, given to me by a state that continues to abduct and torture Baloch citizens. Journalists of my generation have seen Sammi Baloch and Mahrang Baloch grow up in protest camps. Ashamed to witness a new generation being denied basic dignity.”
Following this, the Islamabad High Court ordered the immediate release of all arrested protesters, issuing a directive to the DIG of Islamabad police.
However, a cabinet committee formed by the caretaker prime minister, consisting of three members including the DIG of Islamabad Police, held a press conference around 5 o’clock, falsely claiming that all the arrested protesters had been released.
At 9 o’clock, Sadia Baloch, one of the participants of the march, livestreamed from Margalla Police Station, where she showed that the protesters were being forcibly sent back to Quetta. Despite their refusal to return, the police attempted to load them onto a bus forcibly. One of the participants voiced her distress, saying, “My corpse may go to Quetta, but I cannot. We came for the safe release of our loved ones, not to be tortured and sent back to Quetta.”
Notably, Dr. Mahrang, the organizer of the march, along with Sami and Seema, were separated from the female participants. Meanwhile, there was no information available regarding their male counterparts.
Surprisingly, the Islamabad police did not allow senior journalist and anchorperson Hamid Mir, as well as Asad Iqbal Butt, the chairperson of HRCP, to meet with the march participants. Despite the brutalities witnessed and documented by thousands of viewers through live streams from Sadia Baloch and other participants, the DIG of Islamabad police maintained there was no violence against them. Ultimately, all the march participants were released the next day, but the students arrested from NPC remained imprisoned.
Throughout the month-long journey from Turbat to Islamabad, the Pakistani media did not cover the march, leaving social media as the only source of information for the marchers. Unfortunately, in many districts of Balochistan, internet access was deliberately cut off to suppress their voice. Despite the successful arrival of the march at the NPC, many news anchors rushed to Dr. Mahrang, asking, “Do you condemn the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA)?”
It is important to clarify that the purpose of the march to Islamabad was not to condemn the BLA. If condemnation of the BLA was the intention, it could have been done in Balochistan itself. The primary goal was to seek the safe return of their loved ones and to prevent systemic killings.
Moving forward, during a press conference in Quetta on December 24, Jan Achakzai stated, “Missing persons are BLA terrorists — they are in the mountains or they are being trained in India’s training camps.” He further alleged that militants were using women at the forefront to exert pressure on the state.
Additionally, Achakzai denied the existence of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee, claiming that a small group of individuals had left from Turbat with an agenda to head to Islamabad on a long march and manipulate people through the media.
Achakzai’s denial of women being baton-charged by the Islamabad police contradicts eyewitness accounts and social media footage. His claims regarding the Baloch protesters “facilitating militants” and providing them a platform appear to be an attempt to discredit the legitimate grievances of the marchers.
From an objective standpoint, it’s crucial to recognize that the final judgment on a case rests with the High Court, not with a representative of a caretaker setup like Achakzai, whose authority is limited.
The case of Balach Mola Baksh is not an isolated incident in the eyes of the Baloch nation. The CTD has been implicated in numerous extrajudicial killings of innocent Baloch individuals in the past. For instance, in a previous incident, eleven corpses were dumped by the CTD in Mastung, claiming they were killed in an encounter, but they were later identified as forcibly abducted individuals.
In light of this evidence, Achakzai’s assertion that ‘missing persons’ are terrorists raises serious questions. The evidence points to a pattern of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings rather than associating the disappeared individuals with terrorism.
Furthermore, efforts by Achakzai and other ministers to gather a group of drug addicts in Turbat to protest against the long march seem like attempts to discredit the movement. Despite the marchers’ simple demands and widespread support from within Balochistan, as well as from Punjab and worldwide, these government actions hinder the resolution of the marchers’ concerns.
In summary, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances are pervasive issues across Balochistan. The march against Baloch genocide has garnered substantial support, both locally and internationally, indicating the severity and global recognition of enforced disappearances as a pressing issue in Balochistan.
Returning to the past, on October 27, 2013, the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) organized a march from Quetta to Islamabad on foot, aiming to highlight the issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan. Unfortunately, its demands were largely ignored by the authorities.
Since then, incidents of forced abductions and fake encounters have continued in Balochistan, impacting students and government employees, among others. According to VBMP, thousands of people’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day, highlighting the complexity and seriousness of the issue in Balochistan.
In a statement issued by the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) on social media platform X on December 24, 2023, they affirmed their commitment to persist until the release of all abducted persons and the acceptance of their long march demands. The statement outlined a charter of demands, including the establishment of a fact-finding mission led by a UN Working Group for an in-depth investigation into human rights violations in Balochistan.
The second demand called for the CTD Balochistan to acknowledge its involvement in the alleged fake encounter of Balach Mola Baksh. Additionally, the charter urged the recovery of all abducted Baloch individuals, particularly those whose families were present in the sit-in outside the National Press Club.
Furthermore, the charter demanded the abolition of the CTD and “death squads” in the province. It also called for a press conference from the interior ministry to acknowledge the alleged killing of forcibly disappeared individuals in what they term as “fake encounters.”
The writer is a journalist from Gresha, Khuzdar.