Separatist fighting in Balochistan, the largest and poorest province of Pakistan, has taken a bloody toll in the last nine years, with more than 2,000 civilians killed as well as about 700 security forces and 500 fighters. But more than killings has plagued the people of the province – in that time, thousands of Baloch have disappeared without explanation.
To protest the abductions, a group of about 20 people, mostly women, embarked on a march of nearly 700 kilometers from Balochistan's capital city Quetta to Sindh's capital Karachi on October 27, 2013. The marchers are part of the organization Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP), which has maintained a protest camp in Quetta for three and a half years (see GV article) and will move the camp to Karachi at the end of the march.
The protesters will walk on foot from six in the morning until six at night until reaching their destination. Participants are carrying emotionally charged placards and banners inscribed with slogans, such as “Stop killing Baloch political workers” and “we condemn extra-judicial killings”.
According to the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (IVBMP), at least 18,000 Balochs have been abducted between 2001 and 2013, and their whereabouts remain unknown. “Several loved ones of VBMP members along with thousands of other Baloch are currently languishing in torture cells and hundreds have been killed under-custody,” members said during a press conference at the Quetta Press club, where the protest camp is, before the march.
In the same conference, VBMP warned that if anything happened to them on their way to Karachi, they will hold the provincial government responsible.
Relations between the Balach separatist movement and the government are icy. The Chief Minister of the Balochistan government, Dr. Malik Baloch, recently announced that a multi-party conference would be convened to discuss ways and means of bringing an end to prevailing unrest in Balochistan, marked by insurgency and growing sectarian attacks. However, Baloch resistance groups have rejected talks with the government, and deemed it a conspiracy to damage the Baloch struggle.
On social media, activists voiced their support for the march. Sindhi nationalist Organisation Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) wrote:
— Team JSMM (@TeamJSMM) October 27, 2013
Users commented under the hashtag #VBMPLongMarch:
Hundreds of miles, thousands of people, over million stories of pain and agony. Support #VBMPLongMarch for humanity & justice.
— #VBMPLongMarch (@Faiz_Baluch) October 27, 2013
Journalism student and human rights activist Faiz M Baluch (@FaizMBaluch) tweeted a photo of a marcher:
— Faiz M Baluch (@FaizMBaluch) October 28, 2013
Ghaffar Baloch (@Alhaan_) asked readers to put themselves in the shoes of the victims’ families:
Just think of yourself! How would you feel when your most loved one went missing & you'd no knowledge of him at all? Support #VBMPLongMarch
— Ghaffar Baloch (@Alhaan_) October 27, 2013
Journalist Boriwal Kakar (@BoriwalKakar) spread the news:
— Boriwal Kakar (@BoriwalKakar) October 27, 2013
On 30 October, 2013, the fourth day of the march, the protesters reached Manguchar area of Kalat District in Balochistan. Hamdan Baluch (@HamdanBaluch) reported:
— #VBMPLongMarch (@HamdanBaluch) October 30, 2013