The tragedy of Balochistan’s minorities -by Rahimullah Yusufzai

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Nine years and one month after her husband and former Balochistan minister Abadan Faridoun Abadan was kidnapped from his hometown Quetta, businesswoman Niloufar Abadan has met the same fate.

It is the first time that a known woman has been kidnapped for ransom in the troubled Balochistan province. Harming women is a negation of our religious, human and cultural values, but that is now a thing of the past. For many the most important objective nowadays is to make money by hook or by crook.

More importantly, Niloufar Abadan is a Zoroastrian, or Parsi, and thus the member of a religious minority. The couple’s plight is another evidence of the excesses being committed against the largely defenceless non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan. Poor and resourceless Muslims also don’t fare well in this godforsaken country, but the minorities suffer more because it is easy to persecute them in the name of religion.

Faridoun Abadan was kidnapped on February 17, 2002. Despite the best efforts of his wife, he couldn’t be recovered. He was 56 years old when he was kidnapped. If by any miracle he is still alive, he will be 65 now.

Niloufar Abadan was kidnapped on March 8 in broad daylight on Quivery Road while driving towards the Brewery Road. The kidnappers seized her as her car slowed down at a speed breaker on the road. She was on her way to attend an event on the occasion of the World Women’s Day. It was ironic that a businesswoman and social worker was kidnapped on a day meant to highlight the plight of women and celebrate their successes.

Niloufar and Faridoun Abadan were rich and influential. Their wealth became their enemy and led to their kidnapping. Their influence failed to prevent their kidnapping and is unlikely to help in their recovery.

Niloufar Abadan is a cousin of former Senator Ms Khurshid Barocha. She served on the board of directors of the Trust for Voluntary Organisations (TVO), where one witnessed her concern for Pakistan and its poor and needy citizens. At times, the TVO officials felt she was being intrusive because she inspected work sites to ensure that grants given to community-based organisations for undertaking small development projects in Balochistan were properly and honestly spent. Few among the honorary directors of the TVO at the time were as keen and serious as Niloufar Abadan in pursuing this task.

Faridoun Abadan served as a minister in the then chief minister Nawab Akbar Bugti’s cabinet in the 1980s. He subsequently was appointed special assistant to chief minister Jam Ghulam Qadir Khan of Lasbela and an adviser to another chief minister Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, presently the governor of Balochistan. The high government positions that he held and his friendship with the ruling elite were of little help when he was kidnapped. Obviously, there has been a major breakdown of the law and order situation in the country, particularly in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi and those empowered to help the citizens are largely helpless against the organised gangs of criminals, militants, mafias, etc. They are no doubt able to upgrade their own security to unprecedented levels using state’s resources.

Following Niloufar Abadan’s kidnapping, Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani asked the provincial police chief to make efforts for her recovery. The police chief said a case had been registered against the unknown kidnappers and raids were being conducted to recover her. That is all they would be able to do because the kidnappers are one step ahead of the police and are known to cover their tracks while planning a crime. The poor lady most likely was kept in a safe house in Quetta before being shifted elsewhere. One could now expect a phone call to a family member demanding ransom.

This was the sequence of events when Faridoun Abadan was kidnapped in 2002. The narrator of the events then was Niloufar Abadan, who received the first phone call from the kidnappers speaking Balochi-accented Urdu 10 days after the kidnapping. The phone calls over the years became few and far between, but the ransom amount kept rising. The initial demand was for one billion rupees with a warning that it would be raised to Rs15 billion if she didn’t pay up. A time came when the heartless kidnappers told her she must pay one million dollars if she wanted to hear the voice of her husband.

Threats were hurled on the phone to scare Niloufar Abadan into paying the ransom. Any other woman would have been intimidated, but the brave lady didn’t panic. She stayed put in Quetta, singlehandedly running the family’s liquor and distillery business and persisting with her efforts to recover her husband. Now that she has been kidnapped, one might argue that it was a mistake on her part not to shift from Quetta. Her answer to this suggestion at the time was that she needed to stay in Quetta to continue the search for her husband. Like a faithful wife, she didn’t want to abandon her missing husband. However, she did advice her three children living in the US not to come to Pakistan.

One remembers Niloufar Abadan narrating the efforts she had made while searching for her husband. She had knocked every door, meeting the president, prime minister and Balochistan Chief Minister and seeking help from the police and military officials posted in Quetta. She travelled to Zahidan in Iran, the remote Dalbandin town in Balochistan’s Chagai district and also Chaman on the Afghanistan border. She contacted the Afghan and Iranian authorities following reports that the kidnappers had shifted her husband to Afghanistan or Iran. She was told that Faridoun Abadan was being held in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province by a kidnapping gang of Iranian Baloch operating in partnership with Pakistani Baloch. Some of the kidnappers had been identified and their hideouts were known, but short of a military commando raid or a major police operation there was no way the criminals could have been apprehended and Faridoun Abadan recovered unharmed. It didn’t happen and hopes for recovering the businessman-cum-politician faded with every passing year.

Niloufar Abadan was courageous enough to make those efforts to recover her husband. She didn’t succeed, but refused to give up. There is nobody now to make efforts for her recovery. Only 20 Zoroastrians were left in Quetta after Faridoun Abadan’s kidnapping as others shifted to escape harm. No Zoroastrian felt safe in Balochistan after the treatment meted out to the most prominent member of their community. In particular, the younger Parsis left as it was no longer safe for them to live there. Members of other religious minorities including Hindus, Bohras and Bahais also began leaving Balochistan. The elderly among them were unable to leave, rooted as they were to Balochistan, a place they had called home all their lives.

Before Faridoun Abadan, three minority businessmen including Baharmil Bhatia, a Hindu, Sadiq Ali, who was from the Bohra community, and Hidayatullah Bandagi, a Bahai, had been kidnapped and freed after payment of huge amounts as ransom. Bandagi was tortured the most by his kidnappers, who cut the lobe of his ear and mailed it to his family in Quetta. Such was the terror of the brutal kidnappers that their victims refused to talk after their recovery.

It is possible that the same gang that seized Faridoun Abadan has now kidnapped his wife. The couple had opted to stay and invest in under-developed Balochistan despite the risks and at times even loaned money to the cash-strapped provincial government. One remembers Niloufar Abadan quoting her husband that they had to offer sacrifices to stop kidnappings in Balochistan. Both husband and wife have in a way offered that sacrifice, but the kidnappings continue and there is not much hope they would be safely recovered. Rather, the emboldened kidnappers unafraid of the law would kidnap more people and demand bigger amounts as ran.




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