Karima Baloch (aka Karima Mehrab), 37, the first chairperson of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO-Azad), who was listed by the BBC in its prestigious 100 Most Inspirational and Influential Women of 2016, has been found dead in Canada, according to a source in the Baloch National Movement (BNM) who confirmed the news with the Baluch Hal. However, we cannot verify the causes of her death.
The Toronto Police Operations said when Ms. Baluch went missing, she was wearing black jeans, a grey hooded Roots sweatshirt, a black Canada Goose winter jacket, black Doc Martin boots. She was last seen on December 20, in the Bay St + Queens Quay W area. The Operations also posted an update on its Twitter account confirming that her body had been located.
On December 22, the Toronto Sun quoted a law enforcement official stating that Ms. Baluch’s case has been ruled as “a non-criminal death,” adding, “There is no foul play (suspected).” In an interview with the Guardian, Ms. Baloch’s husband, Hammal Haider, ruled out the possibility of suicide.
“I can’t believe that it’s an act of suicide. She was a strong lady and she left home in a good mood. We can’t rule out foul play as she has been under threats. She left Pakistan as her home was raided more than twice. Her uncle was killed. She was threatened to leave activism and political activities but she did not and fled to Canada.”
Becoming Karima Baloch
“When I was growing up, I never thought of becoming a politician,” Ms. Baloch said in a 2016 interview, “I was more interested in arts and psychology. It is obvious that when you are living in a society whose sufferings you see all around you on a daily basis, then you begin to question why is this happening to me and my people?” She said it was the political situation in Baluchistan that pushed her into politics.
“When you begin the search for answers to all these questions, the answers you find make you give up personal goals and focus on the greater national goal.”
In 2015 Ms. Baloch arrived in Canada to apply for political asylum because of the fear that her life in Baluchistan was at risk due to her political views. The Pakistani High Commission in Canada, nonetheless, aggressively contested her account of the events and urged the Canadian authorities to refuse her asylum application. The Star quoted Nadeem Kiani, the press minister at Pakistan’s high commission in Ottawa, terming Ms. Baluch’s “allegations” of a military crackdown in Baluchistan as “unfounded”. He alleged that it was “unfortunate that these people seek asylum in Canada on the grounds of atrocities. They are not true. There are no such situations.”
Ms. Baluch was married to Hamal Haider, a senior BNM leader who until recently served as the party’s international spokesperson. He had recently moved from London to Canada.
Ms. Baluch was an active campaigner for Baluch rights and a supporter of the free Baluchistan movement. One article described her as someone who is seen in Islamabad as “a dangerous political actor and a threat to the nation’s security” while deep inside Balochistan, “she’s a local hero and a beacon of hope.”
She regularly spoke at different conferences, addressed the media, attended protest rallies, and enjoyed a great following on social media. When asked in an interview why she chose Canada for asylum, she said it was the BSO’s organizational decision so that she could raise the profile of the Baluch movement overseas. While several women from Baluchistan have made it to top political offices in Pakistan, such as becoming federal ministers and senators, Ms. Baluch accomplished something that no other woman had done in Baluchistan’s history. She became the first chairperson of the BSO Azad and also emerged as the most prominent female leader publicly advocating for Baluchistan’s freedom and calling out the Pakistani military for widespread human rights abuses in Baluchistan. In other words, there was just one Karima Baluch.
Ms. Baluch was born in Baluchistan’s Tump area in a politically active family that had produced other prominent nationalist figures like Wahid Qambar and the late Dr. Khalid Baloch. She recently joined the BNM and was reportedly studying at a Toronto university. Her journey with the BSO began in 2006 when she was a student at Atta Shad Degree College in Turbat. It was a tumultuous year in Baluchistan’s politics as the Musharraf government killed the prominent Baluch tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti in August that sparked province-wide protests across the province. Given her proactive participation in the BSO, she soon rose to prominence within the organization. In 2014, she made history after being elected as the first female chairperson of the BSO after Zahid Baluch, its former chairman, went missing. Her home and the family were also reportedly targeted due to her political activities.
Ms.Baloch had galvanized a new generation of Baluch women toward politics and street protests. “A national liberation movement without the participation of women is incomplete,” she reportedly told the BBC. She added in her 2016 interview that Baluch women deserved credit for highlighting Baluchistan’s profile internationally. She cited an increase in the BSO and the BNM female members as evidence of Baluch women’s growing interest and participation in politics.
Although Pakistan has banned the BSO-Azad, Karima repeatedly rejected the notion that the BSO supported violence for the attainment of its political goals. She said key BSO leaders, such as Zahid Baloch, Zakir Majeed, or Qambar Chakar, who had been arrested, killed, or gone missing in Pakistan’s custody were all actually traveling unarmed on organizational trips to mobilize their supporters through peaceful means. She often accused Pakistan of promoting radical Islamic elements in Baluch areas to counter the nationalist movement and to curb women’s rights.
The news about her death spread like the proverbial wildfire in Baluchistan considering that it was the second case of a high-profile Baluch figure who had sought asylum overseas but lost their lives on the foreign land. Earlier this year, Sajid Baloch, a Baluch journalist who had been granted political asylum in Sweden, had also mysteriously disappeared and was eventually found dead.
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Categories: News & Analysis