April Issue 2009
Free at Last
The director of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Balochistan, John Solecki, was released on April 4 after being held captive for two months by the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF). Solecki was found with his hands and feet bound in Mastung, near Quetta. After releasing him, the BLUF called a local news agency to tell them where Solecki could be found. Solecki left for the US the following morning.
Solecki, an American citizen working in Quetta for the past two years, was kidnapped by the Baloch nationalist party on February 2 while on his way to his office. Unknown armed persons tried to stop his vehicle, but when the driver, sensing danger, tried to flee, the assailants opened fire on them. The driver, Muhammad Hashim, died at the hospital after sustaining multiple injuries while Solecki himself was captured.
The targeting of Chinese nationals in Balochistan has become a common occurrence in recent years. Solecki’s kidnapping, however, was the first incident of any American or UN official becoming a target. The incident badly shook both the federal and provinical administrations. This was the first time that the name of the group that took responsibility for the kidnapping had been heard. Till then, the authorities had remained in the dark as to who the culprits were.
The BLUF’s demands for the release of the UN official were stated clearly: recovery of 1,109 missing persons, including 141 missing Baloch women, and the taking of steps for the solution of the Baloch problem in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
The captors gave a 72-hour deadline to the government, threatening to kill Solecki if their demands were not met. On the appeals of Baloch political parties and leaders, including Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri and his son Nawabzada Hyrbiyar Marri, the deadline was extended. Due to the refusal of the BLUF to interact with government authorities, UN officials sought the help of Nawabzada Hyrbiyar Marri, who agreed to play the role of mediator in Solecki’s recovery.
Under him, a ten-member committee was formed, comprising leaders of Baloch nationalist parties and groups, for talks with government officials on the issue of missing persons. The government, too, formed its own three-member committee for negotiations, comprising two officials from the provincial government and one member from the federal interior ministry.
Nationalist circles in Balochistan have, in the past too, demanded the release of missing persons. According to them around 6,000 persons were picked up by law-enforcing agencies during the Musharraf regime and are still languishing in torture cells. However, on the eve of President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Quetta, de-facto interior minister Rehman Malik rejected the allegations and said that all persons whose names had been mentioned in the list were not missing. “Some of these people are in Afghanistan for training,” said Malik.