72-year-old Pakistani leads 3,000-km family protest march
Published — Saturday 1 March 2014
RAWALPINDI: After nearly 3,000 (1,900-mile) gruelling kilometers on the road, a band of families led by a 72-year-old are due to reach the end of their protest march over missing relatives in the Pakistani capital on Friday.
They are the relatives of people who have disappeared in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern province Baluchistan, allegedly at the hands of the country’s security services.
The marchers, led by a retired banker known as Mama (uncle) Qadir, hope to present a petition to UN officials in Islamabad and meet foreign diplomats to raise awareness of their cause.
“We want to tell (the world) that people are being kidnapped every day in Baluchistan, districts are being bombarded and almost every day we are receiving mutilated bodies,” Qadir told AFP on the road close to Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city.
“We have no more hope in the Pakistani government, which is why we want to talk to international organizations, so they can apply pressure.”
Qadir’s son Jalil Reki, a member of the Baloch Republican Party which is suspected of links to the armed insurgency, was found shot dead in 2011 after going missing.
The marchers set out from the Baluchistan capital Quetta last October, walking first 700 kilometres to Karachi, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, before turning their steps northwards to Islamabad, nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Baluchistan, the size of Italy and rich in copper, gold and natural gas, is Pakistan’s largest but least populous province.
It is also the least developed, which has exacerbated a long-running ethnic Baluch separatist movement that wants more autonomy and a greater share of its mineral wealth. The latest armed insurgency rose up in 2004 and separatist groups still regularly attack Pakistani forces.
Rights groups accuse the military and intelligence agencies of kidnapping and killing suspected Baluch rebels before leaving their bodies by the roadside.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have suffered this fate, known as “kill and dump,” in Baluchistan since January 2011.
The security services deny the allegations and say they are battling a fierce rebellion in the province.
The Supreme Court has also been investigating cases of missing people in Baluchistan, issuing warnings to the government to recover these people.