Today, on 22 December, we commemorate the third martyrdom anniversary of Karima Baloch. Across the globe, people are honoring Banuk, Karima Baloch, a Baloch leader and a beacon of hope. At the age of 34, she departed from Balochistan with the mission to amplify its voice globally, firmly believing that if the world wouldn’t come to Balochistan, she would take Balochistan to the world.
Born to migrant parents in the UAE, Karima and her family moved back to Tump in Pak-occupied-Balochistan when she was about 7. A courageous questioner of norms. It was during this time, that the atrocities of Pak Army on Baloch intensified. The conflict became bloody, as the Army targeted not only freedom fighters seeking Balochistan’s independence but also human rights activists, academics, and common people, including Karima’s own family members.
Her family, even though not a big name, was actively involved in politics. Therefore, they were targeted by the Pak Army. Many of Karima’s family members fell victim to the tactics of the Army—enforced disappearances, torture, and the ‘Kill and Dump policy’. Therefore, at a very young age, she understood and bore witness to the atrocities committed by the Pak Army in occupied Balochistan.
In 2004, Karima’s cousin, Gorham Saleh, was kidnapped at a checkpoint while on his way to deliver a truck full of produce. She was just a teenager when she began participating in protests. Although Gorham Saleh was eventually released after four years, the experience left them traumatized. Tragically, another cousin, Bakshi, fell victim to a death squad of the Pak Army and lost his life. These private militias, often armed by the Pak Army, aimed to suppress the independence movement in Balochistan.
In 2006 at just 17 years old, Karima joined the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO Azad), a non-violent student group advocating for better living conditions and freedom for the Baloch people. She shed her last name from Mehrab to Baloch in solidarity with the cause. Despite the dangers, she traveled across Pak-occupied-Balochistan, championing human rights and girls’ education. Rising through the ranks, she became a natural leader in a highly patriarchal society.
In 2009, Karima faced heightened danger as she rose through the ranks of the BSO, witnessing the disappearance of fellow student leaders. By 2013, the Pakistan National Counter Terrorism Authority banned the BSO Azad, the faction Karima was part of. Speaking with Global Voices while still in Balochistan, she described the transformation of their peaceful struggle into a lethal threat. Tragically, in 2009, the vice-chairman Zakir Majeed was kidnapped during a crowded procession and remains missing.
Following Zakir Majeed’s abduction, Karima assumed his role. In March 2014, another BSO leader was abducted in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital. Chairman Zahid Baloc was abducted by the Pak Army, ISI, and MI in front of Karima. In 2015, she was formally elected as the first female leader in the organization’s history, earning the title “Lumma,” meaning “mother” in the Balochi language. After becoming President, serious attempts were made on her life. Her home in Tump was regularly attacked. Her family was shot at and faced mortar attacks. The entire family moved to Karachi due to threats, including calls, gun threats, and raids.
From Tump to Toronto
Living in constant danger, Karima moved between safe houses, rarely seeing her family. The Army sought to charge her with sedition, a perilous situation as those taken into Army custody faced brutal torture, never seeing the light of day or their families again, often ending up as corpses in fields. In 2015, upon her official election as BSO chairperson, the organization had already decided she should leave the country. Even in exile, death threats persisted.
On December 21st, 2020, Baloch tragically disappeared while taking a walk on Toronto’s Centre Island. Her body was found the following day. Karima’s husband, Hammal Haider, also a Pakistani activist living in exile, shared that she left home around noon on Sunday for her usual walk on Toronto’s Centre Island but didn’t come back. The Toronto police issued an appeal for information on Twitter, and her body was discovered on the island the following Monday.
“I can’t believe that it’s an act of suicide. She was a strong lady and she left home in a good mood,” Haider said. “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.”
From BSO activist to exiled advocate, Hammal Haider remains dedicated to the Baloch cause. He continues to organize protests, engage with international media, and raise awareness about the human rights situation in Balochistan.
Her body was retrieved from the icy waters of Toronto. It took sixteen hours for the police to contact the family and state that there was no need for further inquiry, categorizing it as a case of self-harm. Subsequently, Toronto police mentioned that Baloch’s death was under investigation as a non-criminal incident, and no suspicious circumstances were identified. No additional details were provided, and the police conveyed via a tweet that there was “no foul play”.
However,the cause of death – drowning, is awfully similar to the demise of yet another notable Baloch dissident— Sajid Hussain. Just eight months before Karina’s death. The official cause of his death was attributed to drowning. This is not coincidence, but targeted killing of the activists by Pak Army and their ISI on foreign soil. The foreign govt and media also became hand in gloves in keeping the assassination of political asylum seekers under the rug.
Even after her death, Haider continues to receive numerous threatening messages on social media after speaking out about human rights abuses and Army operations in Balochistan. He mentioned, “I was warned that my brothers and wife might be targeted, but I didn’t take it seriously. Such trolls and threats are common when discussing human rights abuses.”
The Fight for Balochistan
Speaking to media, Hammal Haidar, accused the Canadian government of displaying no interest in unveiling the truth behind Karima’s death. Haidar said, “We believe that the Canadian government and…justice system didn’t do well for Karima Baloch and we have been requesting the Canadian government to investigate her case. But, we have seen no interest from the Canadian government.” He added, “So, it is our firm belief that the Canadian government is not concerned about our activists living in Canada…”
He also went on to accuse the Pakistani intelligence agency for her assassination as a part of their bid to eliminate activists abroad. “We have some information that they are also gathering information about other political activists. So, there is no doubt that the Pakistan Army establishment, especially the Pakistani ISI is behind killing,” said Haidar.
Honoring Karima Baloch
Karima Baloch’s life was a testament to the harsh realities faced by the Baloch people under the Pak Army. Just like Karima, with commitment and passion, another brave leader Mahrang Baloch at the helm is leading the Baloch movement. She has become the force to reckon with, and Pakistan, which is already in a dilapidated state, is struggling to contain the valid and much-needed outrage of the Baloch community. Karima would be proud of the nature and force with which the movement is currently leading. Despite the tragic circumstances of her passing, Karima Baloch’s legacy lives on. She is remembered as a beacon of hope, a symbol of courage, and unwavering commitment to justice. Even though we might not get justice for Karima for her murder, we can raise our voice and stand for the cause she was passionate about. Her story continues to inspire people around the world to fight for human rights and stand up against oppression. She is and will always be Lumma Karima.