Elections are scheduled across Pakistan on 8th February, with mainstream political parties like Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) showing a newfound interest in Balochistan. They are organizing political events and garnering support. This was evident when the PML-N’s supreme leader visited Quetta last year, securing the support of more than 20 electives during a visit to Quetta in November of last year. Similarly, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Asif Zardari have made visits to Balochistan. As the election season gains momentum, promises to address Balochistan’s challenges, such as ending enforced disappearances—a prevalent issue in the violence-stricken province—are on the rise. Each democratic party in Pakistan, during opposition or electoral campaigns, speaks of ending the practice of disappearances. However, once in power, they often refrain from addressing this critical issue.
Before winning the 2018 elections and assuming office as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, the former prime minister of Pakistan and chairman of PTI, addressed the Baloch missing persons issue. He boldly declared that if a single person went missing during his government, he would stand against the security agencies. Despite this assurance, a sit-in protest by families of missing persons from Balochistan occurred in D-Chowk, Islamabad, in 2021 during his tenure, highlighting a contrast with his earlier commitment.
Seema Baloch, sister of missing student Shabir Baloch, expressed disappointment, stating that Imran Khan neither offered solidarity nor addressed their issue during the 2021 sit-in protest at D-Chowk, Islamabad. This stands in contrast to his previous assurances before coming to power.
Contrastingly, during Khan’s government, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz joined the 2021 sit-in protest of Baloch missing person families. She urged the army chief and the head of ISI to resolve the issues, emphasizing the need for communication: ‘Come talk to them. Resolve the issues that can be solved. Produce the people who are alive in courts and those who are not alive, at least tell the families about their status.'”
Also, at the PDM Jalsa in Quetta in 2020, Maryam Nawaz appeared in Balochi attire and made a promise to the Baloch missing person families that in their government, no Baloch daughter would be left crying on the roads. She further demonstrated her commitment by changing her social media profile picture, featuring her embracing a Baloch girl from a missing person’s family. However, when her party came to power after overthrowing Imran Khan’s government, Maryam Nawaz did not address the missing person families’ concerns.
In the ongoing 2024 election campaign, Nawaz Sharif, the party chief of PML-N, has pledged to introduce a resolution in the National Assembly supporting the missing persons’ case. Describing their cause as a “jihad,” Sharif asserted a commitment to persist until the missing persons are recovered.
Recently, in his 2024 election campaign, PPP’s Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed a commitment to the Baloch women, assuring them that if he becomes the PM, their sons and brothers will have representation in the National Assembly. He boldly stated that he cannot be deterred, and if becomes the Prime Minister, he is determined to address and resolve the ongoing issue of Baloch missing persons.
In 2013, when PPP was in power, Mama Qadeer and the missing person families undertook a foot march from Quetta to Islamabad, yet the issue remained unresolved. Interestingly, current PPP candidates in Balochistan, Sarfaraz Bugti and Jamal Raeesani, dismiss the missing person problem as fake. This raises concerns about how effectively Bilawal Bhutto can address and resolve the issue if elected. Said Dr. Mahrang Baloch, a Baloch rights activist who led a long march from Balochistan to Islamabad against enforced disappearances and human rights violations in Balochistan.
In late 2023 and early 2024, a missing person families camp was set up at the Islamabad National Press Club under the slogan of #MarchAgainstBalochGenocide. Led by Dr. Mahrang Baloch, the march, which originated from Turbat to Islamabad, included over 100 participating families. Unfortunately, after 62 days, they returned without any government intervention or support. The silence from the government was disheartening for these families.
In Pakistani politics, parties and institutions historically resort to powerful slogans to navigate their way into power. In Balochistan, the predominant issue of missing persons has become a central theme in political campaigns. From Imran Khan to Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto, as well as Balochistan provincial parties like Akhtar Mengal and Dr. Malik, all have employed this slogan to garner support during election campaigns. This historical trend is reminiscent of Zulfiqar Bhutto, who, during his tenure, formed a significant alliance with landlords, emphasizing the slogan of “Food, Cloth, and Shelter” to address the prevalent issue of poverty at that time. However, these promises tend to fade away once a party assumes power.