It was noon on May 11, 2022 when Feroz Baloch, a student at Rawalpindi Dry Agriculture University, picked up his books and headed to the university library. But he never made it there and went missing. Its whereabouts are still a mystery.
His cousin and roommate in the same university complex, Raheem Baloch, noticed that he disappeared late in the evening when he did not return to campus as usual.
“I first sent him a WhatsApp message, but it was not delivered,” Raheem told DW.
“I tried to call him and found that his number was switched off. I assumed that Feroz’s mobile phone was dead and that he would be back soon,” Rakhim recalls.
“As time went on, I got more and more worried. I tried to call his home in Turbat, Balochistan, to ask his parents if they had any contact with him lately, but got no answer as it was late in the evening and his family was already asleep,” he said.
“We stayed up all night waiting for Feroz to return. The next day, we tried to inform the university administration about the disappearance of Feroz, but the university administration did not pay attention to it. We went to the nearest police station to report him missing. The police refused to file a complaint and told us that only blood relatives can do this,” Rahim added.
Nur Bakhsh, the father of Feroz, who is a civil servant in the Balochistan Police Department, told DW that he soon filed a FIR (First Information Report) on his missing son.
“It was May 12 when Rakhim told us about the disappearance of Feroz,” Bakhsh recalls.
“This news pierced my heart. I mustered up the strength to tell his mother, brothers and sisters about this incident. From that day on, we can’t sleep well at night. disappeared all night and prayed for the safe return of Feroz. The world and happiness of our family were destroyed. We faced eternal grief and forgot to smile. My wife has been ill since she found out that our son is absent.”
The disappearance of Feroz Baluch has drawn attention to the missing people. Since 2000, when then-military ruler General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and established his own authoritarian regime, the issue of enforced disappearances has taken on a particular urgency.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all spheres of life began to disappear. Representatives of the Baloch and Pashtun nationalities suffered the most. In March 2011, the Commission of Inquiry into Enforced Disappearances (COIOED) was established to work on this issue.
According to the latest data published by COIOED in July 2022, a total of 8,696 missing persons have been reported. While 6,513 of these cases have been resolved, 2,219 are still pending.
Pakistanis raise this issue on International Day against Enforced Disappearances
Statistics do not reflect the real picture
Gohar Mehsud, a leading human rights journalist based in Islamabad, said: “The COIOED figures are too low compared to the real numbers. The commission was formed in 2011 and the disappearances began in 2000. It is difficult for people from remote areas of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and ex-FATA to access the commission and report their missing persons.”
According to the human rights movement Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), more than 5,000 Pashtuns are still missing.
PTM chief Manzoor Ahmad Pashtin told DW that people still don’t know how or who to contact when they report missing loved ones. PTM members independently visited various areas to collect this data. Pashtin accuses the Pakistani security and intelligence services of preventing agencies like the ones he represents from doing everything in their power to help.
“The security authorities have placed severe restrictions on me and there are certain areas that I or other PTM members are not allowed to enter and we cannot collect statistics on those areas,” he said.
According to the Voice of the Missing Baluch (VBMP), about 6,500 minority people are reported missing.
In 2019, the Balochistan government and the VBMP reached an agreement that allowed NGOs to collect data on missing persons through a screening process that allows immediate family members to register their cases by filling out a government-provided form. VBMP has recently begun sharing this data with the Balochistan government.
“2019 and 2020 were years in which the number of recoveries grew more than the number of reported cases, which made things easier. During this period, about 1,050 new cases were transmitted to the Balochistan government, of which 560 people recovered. But since 2021, the number of enforced disappearances has increased significantly,” Nasrullah Baloch, chairman of the VBMP, told DW.
“The recent crackdown on Baloch students began after a highly educated young woman, mother of two, Shari Baloch, blew herself up outside Karachi University in April 2022 to target Chinese citizens. Shari was a teacher and university student, and this diverted the attention of law enforcement agencies to academia. Since then, about 300 students across the country have forcibly disappeared,” Nasrullah added.
Another UCLA student spoke to DW about how families live in fear on condition of anonymity.
“Our families sent us outside of Balochistan to keep us out of a serious security situation in the province. It is very difficult for them to afford our expenses for education and living here. They donate most of their income to provide us with a safe environment. study and study. Now it has become very difficult for us to focus on our education due to the fear of enforced disappearances,” he said.
“Our classmates and teachers openly criticize our clothes, our culture and call us “comrades or terrorists.”
Baloch students are particularly vulnerable
“Special services are trying to terrorize the Baluchis”
About his cousin, Rahim said: “Feroz was a very reserved and shy person, with a minimum of friends and social circle. He spent most of his time in the university library. He was very passionate about his studies and wanted to become a teacher. … He was well aware of the low literacy rate in Balochistan and was eager to do his part to eradicate illiteracy in the province.”
Meanwhile, human rights activist Imran Baluj told DW: “After several incidents over the past few months, the security authorities are trying to terrorize the Baloch, especially innocent students, just to cover up their inability to fight terrorism in the country.”
These cases “are among those hundreds of students who have been forcibly disappeared by government agencies over the past couple of months,” Imran added.
Lawyer and human rights activist Iman Mazari is studying the case of Feroz in court. Sharing with DW the development of the Feroz case, Mazari said the case was originally filed with the Lahore High Court in Rawalpindi. At the second hearing, the judge dismissed the case, stating that a commercial investigation (COIOED) had been ordered and that a parallel proceeding could not take place.
“Recently, Feroz’s case is in the Islamabad High Court due to COIOED’s inaction, where a hearing is expected on September 7,” Mazari said.
Secret services outside the scope of the law
Former senator and former chairman of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission Afrasiab Khattak told DW that during his time in the Senate, he formed a special committee to investigate enforced disappearances. The Committee found that the country’s secret services, in particular the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), were involved in the enforced disappearances.
“I turned to the Ministry of Defense with a proposal to form a transparent law in order to bring intelligence agencies into jurisdiction. Despite repeated reminders, the Ministry of Defense did not respond to my request. a procedure that will put an end to their authority and impunity,” Khattak said.
Editor: John Silk