On April 30th, 1977, protestors led by fourteen strong women descended upon the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to demonstrate against their missing children. An authoritarian government responded to these protests by calling referring to the demonstrators as “the madwomen.” Under a cloud of fear and repression protestors gathered every week, using the World Cup hosted in Argentina in 1978 to raise international awareness of the human rights violations going on in the country. A decades long struggle, led by what have been called The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, ensued and eventually culminated on January 26, 2006, when the activists acknowledged the civilian government’s efforts to find the missing bodies. A similar struggle is emerging in Pakistan, as Mama Qadeer leads his followers from Balochistan to Islamabad to raise awareness about the missing Baloch.
Between the 1970s and early 1980s Argentina descended into a cycle of political violence which saw a military dictatorship tighten its grip on the country in 1976. Over ensuing months, thousands of activists disappeared, never to return again. Human rights groups estimated that over 30,000 people went missing in Argentina during this period and the majority of the remains were never found. The forced disappearances tried to break the back of left-wing political activists and those the government felt were collaborating with leftist movements. The majority of these activists hailed from rural towns and villages, which meant that urban Argentinians did not care much about what their government was doing. At the end of 1977, the security establishment picked up some protestors, including three founding members of the movement, and subsequently tortured and killed them. More than 25 years later, investigators identified the dead and revealed that these activists were indeed killed by Argentinian security forces in 1977.
It took Argentina over thirty years to make peace with the violence conducted by the military junta. Investigations were hampered, pardons were handed out, and any efforts made to serve justice were crushed by the Argentinian military establishment. All of this has an eerie resemblance to what is going on in Balochistan today. Thousands of Baloch have gone missing over the years and are nowhere to be found. Mama Qadeer has marched with his followers for thousands of kilometers to raise awareness about the missing Baloch. During the march they have been routinely threatened and a deliberate effort was made to prevent them from coming to Islamabad. Meanwhile, the civilian government is slowly trying to conduct investigations, mass graves have been discovered in Khuzdar, and a few missing persons are turning up in court sessions. The quest for justice by the Baloch continues and one can only hope that they do not wait for thirty years to serve justice.
While our civilian leadership openly embraces a ceasefire and conducts negotiations with the TTP, it has ignored these peaceful marchers. This is a dangerous signal to those that seek justice through peaceful protests, for the government is basically saying that the only way to get its attention is by indulging in massive terrorist violence. Mainstream political parties have remained largely silent on the issue of the Baloch and have ignored the plight of these people. In essence, they are being treated as second-class citizens. Our hyper media is largely ignoring these protestors as well, choosing instead to focus on the more juicy issue of terrorism and negotiations with the TTP. All of this will isolate Baloch that believe in getting justice peacefully and radicalize an entire generation of Baloch who will want to use violence as a means to achieving justice.
The question that we as a nation must ask ourselves is whether we want what happened in Argentina to happen in Pakistan. Pakistan has already repeated part of the mistakes that the Argentinians made – thousands of our citizens have gone missing, their tortured bodies turn up once in a while, and now mass graves are also being discovered. To right this wrong, an open and transparent investigation that brings to justice those responsible for these crimes is necessary. At this point in time, the Baloch seem to be going down the route followed by the Mothers in Argentina. For Pakistan, this will be a dangerous situation, as it will radicalize the movement, force peaceful protestors to resort to violence, and lead to further bloodshed in Balochistan.
Every day a Baloch cries out for justice, Pakistan as a democracy loses its legitimacy. Democratic governments exist to serve their citizens and right the wrongs of the past. Our establishment committed some reprehensible crimes in Balochistan during the last few years and those that committed such acts must be punished. While we have embraced the idea of talks with the TTP, Pakistan continues to turn a blind eye to the plight of the Baloch and the crimes that have been committed in the province in the name of national security. If we are to move forward as a democracy, then a truly transparent inquiry into these disappearances is necessary, for without this, democracy is Pakistan will eventually turn into a sham.