by Malik Siraj Akbar
I took these two photo of Shahzeb Baloch a few days ago when he was addressing a protest rally in front of Quetta Press Club in connection to the disappearance of another activist of Baloch Students Organization (BSO-Azad), Qambar Malik Baloch. I am not joking but I really knew that I should have one photo of Shahzeb in my computer because he, like many of his friends who had been whisked away in the past, could be the next Baloch student to be whisked away by ‘invisible soldiers’.
Now we are told that Shahzeb has finally been taken by the government functionaries after being tortured and taken to an unknown location.
For the first time, I met Shahzeb Baloch in Peshawar in 2004 where I had gone to the Peshawar University to undertake a Masters degree in Sociology. The only Baloch students whom I met there were Shahzeb, Sadiq Badani and Aftab Baloch. The first two were enrolled at the Islamia College while Aftab, hailing from Mustung district, was a Pharmacy student. My friend from Panjgur, Waheed Baloch, who got admission in Political Science, and I were very delighted to find some people from Balochistan. While we stayed in Aftab’s room, Shahzeb and Sadiq were very forthcoming and helpful to us.
They used to regularly visit us in the room we were staying. Our discussions clearly indicated that Shahzeb, just like Aftab, was a diehard Baloch nationalist from day one. He supported the cause of an independent Balochistan. On the other hand, I often used to disagree with his vision saying that it was not possible for Balochistan to get independence in the coming days until the Baloch overcame their shortcomings. Shahzeb used to laugh and jokingly tell me: “ Siraj,wait. When Balochistan gets free, we will hang ‘traitors’ like you on the road.” We all used to laugh aloud.
Later on, I left the Peshawar University for the reasons that I was crazy about becoming a journalist and thought I was spoiling myself at the Sociology Department of the Peshawar University. The second reason for my decision to quit PU was lack of accommodation at the university hostel. Since Waheed and I had gotten admission on the seats fixed for Balochistan’s quota, we were told that rooms in the hostel were allotted on the merit basis. I appreciate my friend Waheed Baloch, who is a lecturer of Political Science at Government Degree College Panjgur, for his steadfastness to pursue his goal. On the other hand, I took the next bus of Sadha Bhar Service and returned to Quetta.
Soon after my arrival from Peshawar, I lost contact with Shahzeb until I met him after a long time in Quetta. Here, I saw Shahzeb had emerged as a mature and full-time committed student leader. He played a prominent role in the protests organized by the BSO in connection to different developments ranging from the cases registered against Nawabzada Harbiyar Marri and Faiz Baloch in London to the issue of district-based quota admission policy at the Balochistan University of Information Technology and Management Sciences (BUTIMS).
The Baloch Students Organization (BSO-Azad) said on Thursday that Shahzeb Baloch, the organization’s president for Quetta zone, had been allegedly whisked away by the personnel of the intelligence agencies which led to massive protests by the BSO activists and burning of bus in Quetta city.
According to the details, the activists of the BSO-Azad blocked Quetta’s crowded Manan Chowak to protest the ‘disappearance’ of its senior leader Shahzaib Baloch. They said Mr. Baloch was taken into custody by officials in plainclothes on Fatima Jinnah Road. No one knows about the whereabouts of Shahzeb, a popular BSO leader. When the Baloch student leader resisted his arrest, the officials reportedly tortured and forcefully took him away to an unknown location.
The local police refused to register a case in connection to the disappearance of the Baloch activist saying that cases involving the intelligence agencies were beyond their jurisdiction to deal with.
Baloch nationalists claim that thousands of Baloch have gone missing. The missing persons, they say, are taken into the official torture cells for indefinite period and questioned about the ongoing insurgency in the province. The issue of the missing persons came under limelight recently when a hitherto unknown organization, the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), accepted responsibility for the kidnapping of John Solecki, an American who headed the Balochistan office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The BLUF has been demanding the release of the four thousand Baloch men and 141 women, who are believed to be in the official custody, in return of Solecki’s release, who was kidnapped on February 2 in Quetta after murdering his driver, Syed Hashim.
Angry BSO activists condemned the arrest of Shahzeb Baloch and protested in front of the Balochistan University on Sariab Road. They also blocked the city center by closing Manan Chowak for many hours. They chanted slogans against the government and demanded the immediate release of their leader. The protestors were joined by Baloch female students of the Balochistan University.
A crowed of protestors also burnt a bus on Sariab Road which belonged to the Quetta Electricity Supply Company (QESCO).
The issue of disappearances in Balochistan continues even a year after the induction of the Pakistan People’s Party government in the country. Widely regarded as a phenomenon encouraged by the military regime of former president Pervez Musharraf, the disappearances in the fresh phase include Dr. Bashir Azeem, the central secretary general of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP). Besides, the central information secretary of the BRP, Jalil Reki, a central party leader Chakar Qambarani and the son and brother of Murid Bugti, a prominent leader of the BRP.
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