Collateral Damage had the honour of talking to Farzana Majeed, the General secretary of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP). Along with the Secretary of the VBMP, Mama Qadeer. Farzana launched a 3,000KM long march from Quetta to Islamabad via Karachi to raise the issue of the Baloch missing persons.
The interview was conducted by Jahanzeb Hussain, the editor of Collateral Damage.
My congratulations for your march from Quetta to Islamabad for the cause of the missing persons. What are your sentiments after completing the march?
Thank you for your well wishes. When we started the march, we thought that the awareness we would raise might force the intelligence agencies and the state to release our loved ones. But along the way, we received the news that the Supreme Court and the High Court had dismissed some of the cases pertaining to the missing persons. Even more traumatic was the discovery of mass graves in Balochistan as we were marching. Nonetheless, it was still a major achievement that we managed to raise some awareness in Pakistan and abroad about the barbarism of the Pakistani state in Balochistan.
Can you tell us about the circumstances of the disappearance of your brother Zakir Majeed and the subsequent developments?
Zakir Majeed was the former Senior Vice Chairman of the Baloch Student Organization-Azad. He had the courage to raise his voice against state brutalities, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations committed by Pakistan in Balochistan. He was also one of the members of the committee that pressed for the release of John Solecki, a UNHCR official in Balochistan. Zakir also spoke out against the illegal arrests and killings of the Baloch leader Ghulam Mohammad Baloch and his comrades. He denounced the murder by the Pakistani Army of Baloch leader Akbar Khan Bugti.
Zakir was educating the Baloch youth about the Pakistani occupation of their homeland. He was particularly resentful against the testing of the Pakistani nuclear bomb in the Chaghi mountains of Balochistan. Due to his continuous demonstrations, seminars and speeches in schools and colleges all through Balochistan, the Pakistani state arrested him in June of 2008. His goal of uniting the Baloch youth on a single platform was perceived as a great threat. Zakir was the symbol of the national struggle, which is why the state is unwilling to release him from custody.
He is just one of thousands of political activists who have been illegally arrested by the Pakistani state for protesting against the occupation.
Can you tell us about the process of your own acquiring of political consciousness and your decision to come out publicly for your brother and other missing persons ?
I belong to a politicized family. I grew up watching my mother and many other female activists in my father’s party. Before we began the movement to raise the issue of Baloch missing persons, I was a member of the BSO-Azad. During my studies, I started my political activities on BSO-Azad’s platform. I took part in demonstrations, press conferences, seminars and other activities so that I could educate myself.
It was also my brother’s expectation that I would raise my voice for our national rights. So it was equally because of my commitment to him and our combined struggle that made me launch the movement for the recovery of my kidnapped brother and the rest of the 20,000 missing Baloch persons.
How are the wives, sisters, and mothers of missing persons living through their terrible ordeal?
Everybody is in trauma in Balochistan. The families of the missing persons are living in fear and psychological stress. Any given day could be the day they discover the mutilated bodies of their loved ones dumped alongside the highways or in mass graves. But the Baloch women are strong and they have shown great bravery in coming out protesting about the kidnappings and the state’s ‘Kill and Dump’ policy.
What were the stages of the involvement of women in the missing persons’ cause?
Women, all across the Baloch society, are involved in different activities. Thousands of them are in universities and colleges, either as students or teachers. Many are political activists. As the Pakistani barbarism increased, the involvement of women in the political struggle also increased. Today, every Baloch woman is standing up to the Pakistani state.
Over and above the cause of missing persons, Baloch women are now actively participating in the national struggle. How do you see this unprecedented dimension to the struggle of the people of Balochistan?
This is a natural outcome of the love that women have for their children. Baloch women are patriotic in the sense that no woman gives birth to a child and then sit idle as the state tortures and kills that child. Baloch women will never relent from their struggle.
What is the response in the Baloch society? Do you think many other women will follow your example?
In the beginning, I encountered problems because I was a young woman. But soon I won the solidarities of the Baloch society. Throughout the long march from Quetta to Islamabad, I witnessed the great response of the Baloch people. They welcomed and showered us with roses everywhere we went and made a stop.
Other women are following me. It is my confidence that they will continue to resist.
Did you get expressions of solidarity from the women in Karachi, Islamabad and in other places where you set up your camps?
Karachi has an important Baloch population so we received a great response from the massive number of Baloch people that came out to support us. Many intellectuals and journalists also expressed their solidarity. There were some unforgettable moments in Karachi, especially with Sindhi nationalists. It was great to be reminded that Sindhi nationalists are with us. In Lahore and Islamabad, the National Awami Party and the National Student Federation supported us. Even in the Pastun areas of Balochistan there are groups who sympathize with us. We hope that they will all stay with us in the future.
The English press of Pakistan did talk about your march but there is little echo in international forums. In your eyes how this issue can be brought to the attention of the world public opinion?
We have approached many international forums. We did receive a sympathetic welcome from the UN officials in Islamabad at the end of our march. But the UN and the international community needs to take more responsibility and make available to us the avenues through which the plight of Balochistan could be highlighted. It is my appeal to the UN to be more attentive. We need international attention.