Abdul Qadeer Baloch, a.k.a. Mama Qadeer, is an ordinary man with extraordinary courage. Over the last decade, he has become the face of the civil rights movement in Balochistan and has been in the vanguard of the campaign to bring justice for Baloch ‘missing persons’. Reports of widespread human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, have emerged from the turbulent province, which is in the midst of yet another insurgency.
As the founder of the ‘International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons’, Mama Qadeer has used the platform to raise awareness on enforced disappearances. He gained national and international attention in 2013, when he walked a historic 2,800 kilometres from Quetta to Islamabad to highlight the issue of ‘missing persons’ — Baloch political activists believed to have been kidnapped, tortured and kept in illegal custody under unspeakable conditions. Despite having achieved this incredible feat, it received virtually no coverage from the Pakistani media- they have ignored this, just like they have ignored all the atrocities being committed in Balochistan.
As a result of this media blackout, Mama Qadeer has sought international platforms to tell the story of his people and on 9 February 2018, he spoke at ORF on the Balochistan question and the current security and human rights situation.
He began by chronicling his long march, after seeing that other initiatives such as rallies in towns and cities proved unfruitful. He recalled reading about Mahatma Gandhi’s long march—Dandi March—and decided that this was the best way to raise awareness on missing persons in Balochistan. The long march started from the press club of the provincial capital Quetta, where him and his grandson, who was also present at the event, embarked on the first phase of their ‘Long March’—750 kilometres to Karachi. The response was overwhelmingly positive; two lakh people joined the march along with leaders of local political parties who gave their own security to protect the participants. On reaching Karachi, they did a hunger strike at the press club and reports went to Islamabad, who instead of acknowledging these atrocities held a press conference denying the disappearances. Undaunted by the denials of the authorities, Mama Qadeer and his companions marched on, and every town and village they passed through saw increasing numbers of participants.
The march was peaceful with limited opposition until they tried to enter Punjab where the first attempts were made to stop the march from proceeding to Islamabad. The marchers even received death threats from the authorities. Mama Qadeer responded by saying that ‘my body will be sent back, but the long march will not be’. They faced a similar situation in the city of Gujrat, where road blocks were put in place to deter the long march from going forward. His account goes into details about how the ISI harassed the participants, verbally abused them and tried to run them over with cars. When he finally reached Islamabad, he was stopped by the agencies from making a speech at the press club and instead did a press briefing at the BBC.
He has used the momentum gained from the long march and continued to hold seminars despite receiving several threats from the Pakistani agencies and witnessing the death of fellow activists, including that of his son. He recalled the horrific day when he received his dead son’s body who had been taken by the authorities and tortured in custody for over three years. When his body was brought it had three bullet wounds, hot iron marks on his back and all his limbs were broken. His grandson was only five at the time. This entire ordeal strengthened his resolve and he has been on hunger strike for 2893 days in protest, and he has left the hunger strike camp for the treatment of his grandson in India.
He thanked the Indian people and media for their hospitality and for listening to his story and of the atrocities being committed against his people. He was particularly thankful to Prime Minister Modi for expressing solidarity with the Baloch people.
He spoke about Balochistan’s history and stated that Balochistan’s independence struggle is generational. His forefathers fought for independence, and he and his children will continue the struggle. Using Mehrgarh as historical evidence, he argued that Balochistan is 11,000 years old and lamented that Pakistan is an ‘infant state’ and has no authority to commit such injustice against such an ancient people.
Mama Qadeer highlighted the abundance of natural resources in Balochistan and stated it as one of the principal reasons that Pakistan is not allowing it to be free. He illustrates ‘mountains’ of uranium and coal so abundant that villagers find it whilst digging the foundations of their houses. Despite being endowed with oil, coal gas, electricity and gold, the Baloch people still live in dire conditions with no electricity or running water. Furthermore, following the entry of the Chinese in the province, the Baloch have been exploited even more. He stressed Baloch resistance to CPEC and has declared that not a single Chinese brick will be laid in Balochistan until they are made stakeholders.
On the way forward, Mama Qadeer emphasised the need for democratic processes — he advocated for a referendum monitored by an international authority and let the people of Balochistan decide their own fate.
In closing, he reiterated that he is not a terrorist, but a freedom fighter, committed to fighting the injustice perpetrated by the Pakistani agencies and finding justice for the disappeared.