Nine-year-old Aftab’s mother and cat await his release, Taj Baloch

Nine-year-old Aftab might have heard of the conflict in Balochistan, but he is too young to understand any of it. That did not stop him from becoming a victim of this simmering conflict.

He was picked up by the Sindh Rangers and personnel of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies from a Karachi apartment on 28th of October 2017. He is still missing.

Aftab does not remember his biological mother. He was 40 days old when she, Jamal Khatoon, died of Hepatitis B and C in 2007, the year Aftab was born.

He was then adopted by his father’s sister, Sabira Rahim. Aftab now calls her mother.

His biological father, Mohammad Younis, teaches school children in Balochistan’s Khuzdar area and has no political affiliation. But his mother, Sabira, a 35 years old schoolteacher, is the wife of Rahim Baloch, a known Baloch nationalist leader. He served as Chairman of the Baloch Students Organization and the founding Secretary General of the Baloch National Movement. This very fact made Aftab qualified enough to become another Baloch missing person.

Aftab attended Pak Islamic Public School in Khuzdar till grade three. At the end of 2015, the family shifted to Karachi to escape any possible fallout of the ongoing conflict between Baloch separatists and Pakistan’s military. They were living in the Gulshan-e-Hadid area of Karachi and Aftab was a student of grade 5 at the Rising Star School.

“He loves cats. When he found a hungry cat wandering around, he would just bring it home and keep playing with it all the time after school. He would feed the cat first and then take his own meal,” says his emotional mother, Sabira.

“He wanted me to buy him a bicycle”, she reminisces. “I said, ‘No. I wouldn’t buy one, because you are young and streets are too dangerous for cyclists’. He laughed at me and said, ‘Look at my mom! How scared she is. I am not scared even I am much younger than you.”

Apart from cycling and cats, Aftab loves football. He takes more interest in football than his books. Sabira says he used to play with his ball inside the house, often breaking things.

The Sindh Rangers raided their house in Gulshan-e-Hadid at around 02:30 am on 28thof October 2017. They whisked away Aftab along with his two cousins: 24-year-old Rahwat and 25-year-old Arif.

The same night two more raids were carried out in Karachi and six other Baloch youth were whisked away. Nawaz Atta, the information secretary of the Baloch Human Rights Organization, a human rights group working to highlight rights abuses in Balochistan, was among them.

No one has heard of Aftab since then. His mother and his cat are impatient to see him again.

“He loves sandwiches. Vegetables too. I don’t know if they feed him anything or not,” his mother breaks down.