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T2F hosts the Balochistan discussion that others shy away from

T2F hosts the Balochistan discussion that others shy away from

KARACHI: With the latest cybercrime bill passed by a National Assembly committee, freedom of expression has once again come under threat adding onto the gag on reporting and talking on certain issues within the borders of Pakistan.

One such issue is the struggle for an independent Balochistan that has been ongoing over decades and seen an entire generation succumb to the vagaries of the conflict. The T2F gave this cause and its spokespersons a platform on Friday evening to air their grievances against the state and the establishment.

Titled “Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2)”, a panel discussion was held between Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur and Wusat Ullah Khan moderated by activist Moneeza Ahmed.

Earlier this month a seminar on the same topic ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ scheduled to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences was cancelled owing to same reasons. The event was rescheduled and relocated to Islamabad with all the panellists, except one, changed.

With the peg of the evening at T2F, the enforced disappearances of the Balochi activist, the narrative was not new to the public. In 2013, Mama Qadeer, and 20 odd people began a long march from Quetta to Karachi to demand the release of their missing, and if not release, a stop to their torture and murder and production in court.

Mama is vice chair of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons and has experienced the trauma of having lost a loved one. His son Jalil Reki, member of the Baloch Republican Party, was found shot dead in 2011 after being missing since 2009. “These are ways to cripple us mentally and physically so that we no longer are staunch on our cause. But they forget that the Baloch are a proud nation. We have fought and survived various invaders and our heritage and traditions have only further strengthened instead resolve,” he said.

Images of the Long March saw a few resilient faces on foot on eerily desolate roads and highways, amid dusty roads and broken shoes. What remained conspicuous in all these images was the cart with portraits of the missing men who are still not heard of despite years.

Farzana Baloch, whose brother Zakir is still missing, inquired from the audience and beyond as to why questions were raised about her seeking out the help of international agencies to help recover her brother. “I keep asking you for help. I ask the High Court of Balochistan and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the police and the activist groups. But can you not hear us?”

She further raised reservations about the way the Balochis and their cause was treated. “If our brothers, sons and fathers are guilty of a crime, produce them in court and charge them officially. Punish them after charging them. But follow the law and the constitution.”

On recalling how Mama Qadeer heard of his son’s death and the discovery of his tortured body at a protest, she said, “There is a limit to our tolerance. Imagine how it must have felt when in the middle of the Long March, after reaching Dera Ghazi Khan, we saw the news of the discovery of a mass grave in Khuzdar.”

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur went on to lament “how people in the country only hear the state’s narrative and no one is willing to hear ours. So what the state labels us that how people refer to us.”

The discussion then moved on to the role of the media in the reporting of this issue and how a more conducive space needs to be given to allow the various voices to be heard.

An edited version of the documentary, “Missing in Pakistan”, was also shown that highlighted the struggle of the families of the missing persons, and the closure their lives lack.

Shortly after the programme, T2F director Sabeen Mahmood was shot dead in a gun attack on her car near the Defence Central Library.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2015

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