“IS … [Pakistan] a banana republic?” So went the angry rhetoric to which a PML-Q senator resorted in the National Assembly while criticising the recent arrival of a delegation of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. By his own account, Mohammed Raza Hayat Hiraj fears that the team’s report might be used to highlight the views of the “one per cent” separatists of Balochistan. However, he needs reminding that the euphemistically named but very serious issue of ‘forced disappearances’ has been with us for several years now. Repeated efforts and appeals from human rights organisations, the families of the disappeared and even organs of the state have failed to produce any meaningful answers as to who, within what agency, is indulging in unlawful detentions and how those thought to be in illegal custody can be recovered. The unhappy fact is that too often, suspected ‘kill-and-dump’ victims turn out to be those thought to have been made to forcibly ‘disappear’. While Balochistan appears to be the main theatre of operations of such transgressions, there are indications that similar tactics are being employed elsewhere too.
The missing persons issue is already being investigated by the Supreme Court and a parliamentary committee on national security. If the country’s security forces are not involved, as they have repeatedly affirmed, then there’s nothing to hide. The UN committee ought to be given full access and support at every level of the administration. This murky issue needs to be cleared up. At the international level, it casts an ugly shadow over Pakistan, which already has a poor human rights record, while at the national level it erodes public faith in a security apparatus that is stretched to the limit trying to contain threats from myriad quarters, and which needs every drop of support it can muster.