THAT the United Nations (UN) is anything but a genuinely representative body of global humanity is as close to a truism as there can be in this day and age.
For all of the spectacle associated with it, the UN has time and again shown itself to be toothless when confronted with the might of imperial bullies, most of all Washington. Its bureaucracy is all too comfortable in the knowledge that it is at one and the same time part of, yet rhetorically opposed to, the status quo.
In a highly imperfect world, however, many of the UN’s fiercest critics would acknowledge that it does play some role in bringing to light flagrant abuses of power in different nooks and crannies of the globe, even if it rarely is able to stop them.
If a particular oppressed community or nation has no hope of matching up to the might of its oppressor, the most common practice is to call for the UN to intervene.
Intervention is of course, part of the problem rather than the solution, insofar as UN peacekeeping forces, both in their composition and mandate, typically reflect the prevailing global balance of power. And where intervention would invert this balance of power, political will is often sorely lacking.
Yet most of the world’s states — as well as stateless peoples such as the Palestinians — have at one time or the other called for UN monitors to take up their causes when no one else will.
Not surprisingly, many of these same states take great offence to UN initiatives that expose abuses of power and privilege within their own territories. Pakistan, for instance, has for decades demanded that the UN take decisive action vis-à-vis Kashmir, and continues to invoke UN resolutions drafted on the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Yet Pakistan almost always reacts furiously when the UN, or other global bodies, provide evidence of hanky-panky on the part of our own state functionaries.
Even more infuriating for the permanent state apparatus are episodes such as the high-profile request made by the PPP for the UN to conduct an independent investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Another similar controversy is brewing at the present time which reflects just how internally divided the ruling strata of this country has become.
A UN team is currently in Pakistan — on the initiative of a Senate body — to take up the very serious issue of missing persons. Over the past year or so the Pakistani state — and its security (including intelligence) apparatus in particular — has been facing the heat for its alleged brutalisation of Baloch society.
Kill-and-dump operations have become commonplace in the restive Baloch regions of the country’s largest province over the past few years. Notwithstanding the painfully obvious attempts of the establishment to deflect attention and discredit Baloch militants, there is now a semblance of consensus across a fairly wide cross-section of Pakistani society that the men in khaki are responsible for the kidnappings, torture and killings of large numbers of Baloch youth.
The UN team is here to either verify or reject this general claim; the chances are that, allowed to function without impediment, the international observers would put together a clear yet diplomatically worded report. Yet even before the team could get down to business, a barrage of defensive and even threatening polemic began to emanate from within political circles and the media.
Conservative voices in parliament have been going on about how the presence of this team and its mandate to investigate the issue of missing persons represents a grave threat to our proverbial national security.
Media anchors have been doing what media anchors do: sensationalising the issue along standardised, reactionary lines. Meanwhile, the chief justice of the Supreme Court (SC) has simply refused to meet the team.
And all this for what, one asks? Whatever happened to the carefully constructed consensus over the need to cut our intelligence apparatus down to size, especially with regard to its treatment of Baloch nationalists? Why are Pakistan and Islam suddenly in danger, yet again?
Most intriguing is the attitude of the judiciary. The ongoing hearings in the SC on Baloch missing persons have raised hopes amongst observers throughout the country that it may actually be possible to bring our uniformed guardians to account for their inhuman excesses.
Yet one can gauge a certain reluctance on the part of the SC to actually go beyond censuring the inspector general of the Frontier Corps and take more definitive action against the perpetrators of what must undoubtedly be acknowledged as crimes against humanity. Prime ministers can be dismissed for breaking the law, but high-ranking military personnel get off with warnings?
The unwillingness of the judges to meet the visiting UN delegation will go a long way towards confirming the suspicions of the critics. A plethora of evidence is already on record in the SC confirming that FC along with intelligence personnel have kidnapped students and political workers whose mutilated bodies have later surfaced in drains and back alleys.
Almost all SC cases these days are virtually telecast live on cable television. Sharing such evidence with the world was hardly considered a potential threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty. At least not until the five-member UN team arrived.
As the saying goes, things have been rotten in the state of Denmark (read: Pakistan) for a long time.
Perhaps inadvertently, much of the dirt to which only the very powerful were privy is slowly but surely becoming public information (in much the same way as WikiLeaks has precipitated globally). A lot of the exposés have no potential liberating effect for Pakistan’s people. The same cannot be said when it comes to the issue of Baloch missing persons.
The cold war under way between those who invited the UN to investigate the issue and those who still believe that proclamations of national security can cover up their colonial attitudes is one in which all conscientious people in this country must take sides.
This cannot be simply depicted as another instance of parliament taking the fight to the establishment, because the latter has its lackeys sitting inside the former raising a ruckus about sovereignty and the like.
Ultimately, the UN team’s presence in Pakistan is incidental to the real fight between those who want to guarantee basic freedoms to Pakistan’s people and those who continue to suppress them.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad