In recent events, nearly 400 members of the ethnic Baloch community have been staging a weeks-long protest outside the National Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan. The demonstrators, including men, women and children, are demanding justice for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the Balochistan province. The province is Pakistan’s largest but also the least populous and has a history of marginalization and a separatist movement since its annexation in 1948.
Balochistan, home to 15 million people, is rich in natural resources, yet it remains the country’s poorest region. The $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through Balochistan, making it strategically important. Baloch activists argue that the Pakistani state has exploited the province for its resources, triggering separatist sentiments. The ongoing conflict, which began in the early 2000s, has seen several Baloch armed groups fighting for independence.
The Pakistani government’s response to the separatist movement has involved a violent crackdown, resulting in the killing and disappearance of thousands of ethnic Baloch. Baloch activists claim that at least 504 people were extrajudicially killed in the province last year alone, while the government attributes these deaths to suspected rebels.
The recent catalyst for the protests was the extrajudicial killing of 20-year-old Baloch citizen Mola Baksh, abducted from his home in Turbat on October 29, 1,500 km away from Islamabad. Despite being presented in court on November 21, he was confirmed dead two days later. The Counter Terrorist Department (CTD) claimed that he confessed to terrorist activities, but his family alleges another extrajudicial killing.
The protesters, led by Mahrang Baloch, a young doctor, have presented a five-point charter of demands to the caretaker government, including a UN fact-finding mission to investigate rights violations in Balochistan. Despite the filing of a sedition case against Mahrang and other protesters, they remain determined to seek justice for the families who have lost loved ones to mysterious disappearances.
As Pakistan approaches national elections, these protests highlight the deep-seated issues in Balochistan and the urgent need to address the grievances of the Baloch community. The struggle against enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings persists, demanding attention and resolution on both regional and international fronts.
The incident serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for addressing human rights violations and fostering dialogue. The outcome of their determined struggle holds implications not only for the region but also worldwide.