I went to T2F straight from work, finding it jam-packed with all chairs occupied and people, mostly young, standing towards the back. I silently entered the rows and stood with my back towards the counter as I listened to Mama Qadeer, a Baloch nationalist whose son was killed some time ago by LEAs, reading from a paper in Urdu. It seemed like a long press release, about the state’s injustices to Baloch people and military’s heavy handedness on the locals.
I took out my phone, clicked a picture and shared with my friends on Facebook and WattsApp to show how crowded it was. After that I listened to the panelists and various topics they touched, from missing persons whose case was taken up by Supreme Court and nothing happened despite over a hundred hearings to long march consisting of 20 people. A 3000 km journey, starting from Press Club Quetta right up to Islamabad, after which still nothing came out except criminal silence from the government and complete ignorance by LEAs.
This was the 5th time trouble had stirred up in Balochistan. As the panelists highlighted, it started back in March 1948 when the sovereign status of Kalat and Balochistan (as agreed by Jinnah at the time of creation of Pakistan) was taken away that Baloch resistance began and it continues to stir every decade or so. People are not senseless or brainless to keep fighting, there must be some problems that led to first resistance, then second, and then third right up to fifth. Grievances, whatever they are, were not addressed and neither resolved, leading to Balochistan becoming a no-man’s land where multiple powers are trying to gain dominance.
Farzana Baloch talked about her endeavors to find her brother that was kidnapped by intelligence agencies. Mama Qadeer spoke at length about his missing son that turned up dead, all this while not knowing why he was taken away, what were his crimes and why wasn’t he punished through the courts. Mohammed Ali Talpur gave historical details of the events that started Baloch movement for self-governance and Pakistani state’s heavy handedness since (which includes borrowing helicopters from Iran to attack Baloch people). He maintained a clear stance, even during the Q&A session, that he wasn’t Pakistani.
Some interesting points were mentioned. For example, Mama Qadeer said that in a television program the anti-Baloch elements claimed Mama Qadeer was given 1 lac rupees for every kilometer he traveled. The journey was of 3000 kilometers that translate to 3 crore rupees. Mama Qadeer has photo copy of 5 crore rupee cheque that was given to him by Balochistan government which he returned after making a copy and said which figure is higher? 3 crores or 5 crores?
Mr. Talpur gave simple explanation. He said he is Baloch who is demanding his right of self-governance back that was agreed at the time of creation of Pakistan and taken away by force, subjugating the people through military. Baloch have history of centuries, Pakistan is a state that is barely 70 years old. Pakistan, as a nation, does not exist because it is a country created in the name of Islam and not because of the nations that existed within its borders. So how can those with centuries of history would forget their past and become a paste-less person for the sake of a country that doesn’t even own its own past of its creation?
Wusatullah Khan was vocal from media side since he works for BBC Urdu. He told about the challenges of media, where the only ones dare to write anything are English newspapers since they are not read by the masses. Urdu newspapers were so heavily censored during Zia that a sense of self-censorship emerged within media that works to this day and topics like Balochistan, MQM and missing people are unfavorable because they get owners into trouble. Then any negative topic about China and middle east countries (especially Saudi Arabia) is a BIG NO because there is no way they can handle the pressure that would come their way. Balochi language has become a taboo for written material because anything written in it is assumed to be by and for terrorists. Since the military can’t be bothered with keeping translators, they banned the use of local language altogether for literacy, education and media while promoting non-local languages including Urdu and English that can be controlled. Media desks in Balochistan do not forward news because doing so will get the media persons killed by one part or the other, and Press Club of Turbat seems to be empty for sometime now.
A short documentary was played about missing persons that was made in 2007, and I recalled seeing some of the clips. This was towards the end of Musharraf’s time when Chief Justice was dismissed and locked up by Musharraf on charges that were already proven false in court, and missing persons case was what lead to judicial crisis that nearly toppled the regime. One clip was of the plight of a mother whose husband was missing since long and she finally held demonstration in front of LEAs in Balochistan where his son was then arrested and dragged so inhumanly that his shalwar came off which was ripped out and he was thrown into the van like a grain sack in semi-nude condition, his mother and sister crying and screaming with no one of authority willing to listen.
The Q&A session followed including questions asked via emails and also by the audience. I believe most of these questions touched most subjects and the panelists answered them as well without reservation. One person from Hazara community also asked about why solidarity was not shown when for 5 days Hazaras kept dead bodies under rain in protest, to which Mama Qadeer gave response that the Baloch Nationalists were certainly there and so were Hazaras with Baloch Nationalists when Long March began.
After quite a few questions, and it was Sabeen Mahud (T2F founder and owner) who has handing the mic to the audience, I was the last to raise hand. Sabeen recognized me since we have interactions in the past during various events, both at T2F and outside, and she gave me the mic instantly.
My question was simple, why civilian institutions and governments couldn’t do anything about Baloch rights if military governments were so much repressive? Surprisingly, this was answered the longest. Mr. Talpur began that establishment and government authorities were on the same page regarding Baloch rights and when military decides, the civil authorities can’t do anything except follow. The case of Supreme Court was pointed out where after a hundred hearings, it is now pretty much in cold storage and no further progress being made in the case since neither court nor LEAs are interested in the case. After Mr. Talpur it was Mama Qadeer who spoke and he spoke from his heart, where he simply dismissed civilian governments completely. He gave multiple examples where, when civil governments tried to intervene, the military simply gave a shut up call. He started with the Long March where sitting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asked them to meet. When the group demanded they will only meet if General Pasha, General Kiani and one member of international body will also be part of the meeting, PM simply said I don’t have power to do so. Similarly when Zardari was approached by one person to get his released and even paid 3 million, Zardari called General Pasha to release the person’s kid. He was simply told to mind his own business and few months later the dead body of the young man was found. Mama Qadeer gave multiple examples where people were told their missing relatives will turn up on Eid and instead dead bodies were found, later on clarifying that they never promised if they would be alive.
When the panel had spoken, the session was ended and everyone first clapped for panel and then for Sabeen Mahmud for her bravery to hold the session. Her smile is the last thing I remember, standing just inches away as she took in the applause and strode forward to talk to the panelists. I made my way out towards the car, noticing two people in Shalwar Kameez standing at the corner of the street, one in greyish white while another in light blue (drivers?) as I sat in my car and drove to home.
An hour later, Sabeen was shot dead after leaving from T2F and the news reached me after another two hours.
And Sabeen was silenced for unsilencing Balochistan!
P.S. Within hours after the session, Facebook and Twitter profiles of T2F (The Second Floor, the cultural establishment where the session was held) were closed down.