Balochistan becomes cemetery for journalists as Pakistan targets intellectuals

Dozens of Baloch journalists, intellectuals, educationists and poets have been disappeared, abducted, or simply killed
Balochistan becomes cemetery for journalists as Pakistan targets intellectuals
Balochistan becomes cemetery for journalists as Pakistan targets intellectuals
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By Ahmar Mustikhan

Dozens of Baloch journalists, intellectuals, educationists and poets have become victims of enforced disappearances and fallen prey to the Pakistan state’s kill and dump policy in the last six years, or simply shot dead.  

The recent case in point is that of a prominent intellectual Wahid Baloch, editor of the Balochi language magazine Balochi Labzank and in-charge of the world’s best Balochi language library Sayad Hashmi Reference Library in Malir, Karachi. Wahid Baloch was forcibly abducted by the Pakistani intelligence personnel on July 26 2016 without any charge. Nothing is known about his whereabouts as yet. 

The Amnesty International issued an alert on his abduction rather swiftly saying Wahid Baloch “is at grave risk of ill-treatment, torture, or even death. Scores of other activists who have been forcibly disappeared in Karachi and the neighbouring province of Balochistan have suffered similar fates in recent years.” Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth tweeted the man fought against disappearances but became a victim himself.

“His love for Balochi language and literature was legendary. His close circle of friends say he was not only a voracious reader but also a keen collector of books and knew of every single second-hand book shop where, for example, a Kafka could be secured for a bargain,” says Nasir Abbas, former editor Dawn. While in London as a BBC producer, Abbas wrote an article wrote an article appealing to the powers-that-be to spare the Baloch scholar.

Mindful of the extreme torture he is facing in a Gestapo-style dungeon, Wahid Baloch’s daughter Hani Baloch wrote, “I imagine you are in pain. I'd give anything for your safe recovery. If I can find you, I will never let you go again.” Her impassioned appeal fell on the deaf ears of the Pakistan secret services. Imtiaz Baloch, a friend of Wahid Baloch, who is now a Canadian citizen notes “For years, Wahid Baloch has been pushing the limits of the ringmaster’s patience. No other factor seems to be attached to his kidnapping except for his decades of work on Balochi literature and his tireless campaigning against enforced disappearances by the Pakistan army.” 

Five years ago Professor Saba Dashtiyari, founder of the Sayad Hashmi Reference library, was gunned down as he was a vocal advocate for Balochistan’s right to freedom. Last year, the Deep State –Pakistani intelligence services plus military establishment-- gunned down Karachi liberal intellectual Sabeen Mahmud, after she defied the “angels” or ISI orders not to host a talk about the victims of enforced disappearances in Balochistan. Her killing took place even while guests were still at the venue of the talk, the Second Floor.

Quetta journalist Muhammad Akbar Notezai, writes in The Diplomat that according to the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), “Balochistan has become a cemetery for journalists.” Two years ago Irshad Mastoi, general secretary of the BUJ, was gunned down at his office in Quetta, along with a trainee reporter Abdul Rasool Khajak and accountant Mohammad Younus. On the day of his death, Mastoi who sympathized with the Balochistan liberation struggle, had posted comments against two politicians, the cleric Tahirul Qadri and cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan. Mastoi hinted at the bullying by intelligence services when he said “some institutions consider the media as a resistance group.”

More than three dozen journalists fell prey to Pakistan's cloak-and-dagger games. Prominent among those who were killed and their bodies dumped are Ilyas Nazar, editor of Balochi language Darwanth magazine; Haji Abdul Razzak Baloch and Javed Naseer Rind of Daily TawarRazzaq Gul of Daily Express. Even foreign journalists are not spared. "It's a complete nightmare," UK journalist Willem Marx, author of Balochistan at Crossroads, said about the state of press freedom there. "Foreign journalists will simply get deported for reporting on Baluchistan. It's much more of a mortal risk to local journalists." Marx, who was denied visa to go Pakistan because of his book, is right. 

International correspondent Declan Walsh, of Irish descent, wrote in The Guardian about Pakistan’s kill and dump policy in France-sized Balochistan: “The bodies surface quietly, like corks bobbing up in the dark. They come in twos and threes, a few times a week, dumped on desolate mountains or empty city roads, bearing the scars of great cruelty. Arms and legs are snapped; faces are bruised and swollen. Flesh is sliced with knives or punctured with drills; genitals are singed with electric prods. In some cases the bodies are unrecognisable, sprinkled with lime or chewed by wild animals. All have a gunshot wound in the head.” 

Since truth is death sentence for any rogue, terrorist state, Declan Walsh was subsequently expelled from Pakistan and is still an undesirable person there. British journalist Carlotta Gall, daughter of famous Scottish journalist the late Sandy Gall and reporter for The New York Times, was beaten up by the Pakistani “angels” while she was in Quetta, Balochistan. She wrote in her paper about the incident. “One agent punched me twice in the face and head and knocked me to the floor. I was left with bruises on my arms, temple and cheekbone, swelling on my eye and a sprained knee…. All the people I interviewed were subsequently visited by intelligence agents, and local journalists who helped me were later questioned by Pakistan's intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence.” Since then Gall has written an interesting book The Wrong Enemy, in which “Her evidence that Pakistan fuelled the Taliban and protected Osama bin Laden is revelatory.”

Baloch educationists have fallen prey to terrorist outfits that enjoy ISI blessings. One prominent case is that of US-educated Zahid Askani, who left the comforts of America, to launch  co-education school in Gwadar. C. Christine Fair, associate professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who is doing research work on Balochistan as well, was threatened by the Pakistan intelligence services that she will be raped by an entire regiment for exposing the army grandiose, war mongering strategies. “Their tools are crude and include: outright threats; slanderous articles in Pakistani papers and other on-line forums; an army of trolls on twitter and other social media who hound us; and embassy officials who attend and report on our speaking events on Pakistan. But we are lucky to be in the United States: Pakistan’s khaki louts disappear, kidnap and/or kill their critics within Pakistan,” she wrote in the Huffing Post. Former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and his spouse Farahnaz Ispahani, author of Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities are unwelcome in Pakistan simply because of their intellectual efforts to curtail the powers of the Deep State.

(Ahmar Mustikhan is a senior Baloch journalist and founder of the American Friends of Balochistan in Washington DC.)

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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