Following the unexplained disappearance of two Pakistani university students, Doda Ellahi and Ghamshad Baloch, on June 7, a group that had gathered outside of Sindh Assembly in Pakistan for a sit-in to protest their disappearance was attacked by Karachi police officers who were accused of using excessive force. According to The Print, 28 protestors were arrested and later released on June 13. Organizers who witnessed the arrests accused police of “manhandling” men, women, and youth. Video shot at the moment officials arrived shows officers running up to protestors and dragging them along the ground.
Doda and Ghamshad, philosophy students at the University of Karachi, remained missing until June 14, the day after the arrests were made. The chairman of the organization, Voice of Balochistan Missing Persons, stated that both Doda and Ghamshad are Baloch and “belong to the Kech district of Balochistan.” Protestors claimed that the students were taken by the Karachi police’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), which the CTD denied. Activist Seemi Din Baloch said she believed the pair was taken because “being Baloch was a crime.” “If they had not been Baloch,” she said, “they would not have been taken away.”
Tensions between the Pakistani government and Baloch people have been ongoing. The Balochistan region stretches across Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the latter of which annexed a portion as a province in 1948. Since this accession, the Baloch Insurgency, as it has been named, has continued to advocate separatism and statehood for the Baloch people. This has resulted in an “enduring armed and nationalist conflict” between the insurgents and the Pakistani government.
One of the many consequences of this on-going conflict has been a noticeable increase in the number of missing Balochs. According to scholar Umbreen Javaid, “[Pakistani] intelligence agencies have allegedly been picking up people and holding them in custody ad infinitum in order to subdue the insurgency in the province.” In May, The Wire reported that 53,000 Baloch people have been abducted and continue to be taken from their homes, according to records kept by Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. The report comes nearly three years after the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan initially assessed that 47,000 Baloch were reported missing. These numbers have been contested by the state, which claims to associate Baloch people’s disappearances with involvement in terrorist activities, though there is little to no evidence to support the truth of these allegations. Former councilman Mir Muhammad Talpur reiterated that “intellectuals or educated persons” who continue to “question the state” on Baloch abductions are also perceived as “dangerous.”
While Baloch students have been kidnapped before, these two recent abductions sparked particular outrage after CTD officials allegedly retracted a promise to arrange a meeting with family of the missing students. Subsequently, over 100 protestors composed of relatives, community members, and activists began their demonstrations outside of the Karachi Press Club late last week before marching towards Sindh Assembly on Sunday, where a budget session was scheduled to take place. It was here, Dawn reported, where the footage was taken of police “dragging peaceful protestors and stuffing them into police vans.” A Karachi police officer denied that demonstrators were “treated roughly.”
Climate Change Minister and senior Pakistan People’s Party leader Sherry Rehman has since announced that she has ordered an inquiry into the “disproportionate and unseemly use of force against women protesters in Karachi.”
Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) remains deeply concerned about the disappearances of Baloch students, the abuses of protestors aiming to raise awareness on the matter, and endangered academics who question state behavior. ESW calls upon all international organzations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to strongly protest and condemn these infringements and failures of the state to protect students’ right to live safely and protestors’ right to speak freely. ESW urges the Pakistani government to honor its international and constitutional obligations to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of human rights.
References and Further Reading
“‘Missing’ Baloch students return home,” Pakistan Today
“Protest outside SA against missing Baloch students,” The Nation
“Baloch students protest repeated enforced disappearances,” People’s Dispatch
“Concerns of Balochistan: Effects and Implications on Federation of Pakistan” Journal of Political Studies