ISLAMABAD, Oct 2: The Supreme Court-appointed commission on missing persons disclosed on Tuesday that 80 more cases of disappearance had been reported to it during the past three months.
The announcement contrasts sharply with a claim government officials made last month during their meetings with a United Nations mission on enforced disappearances that the number of such incidents had dropped sharply over recent months.
The latest figures released by the two-member Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, show that 539 cases of missing persons were under investigation before it by Sept 30. On Jan 1 last year, there were 138 cases pending before the commission which received 714 new cases during the past 21 months, increasing the total number to 852.
The commission set up under directives of the Supreme Court two years ago has so far disposed of 313 cases.
The commission had earlier announced that the total number of missing persons’ cases was 772 by June 30. Thus it received 80 new cases between July 1 and Sept 30.
Without elaborating, the commission said it had succeeded in tracing 27 persons during September when it held its proceedings in Islamabad.
An official statement provided the list of the 27 persons recovered last month, but was silent about the place where they were found and the identity of their captors.
It once again expressed its determination “to make all out efforts to trace the missing persons”.
The term ‘missing persons’ has been in use in the country since former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf announced its support to the US in the war on terror after the 9/11 attacks.
The relatives of the missing persons allege that intelligence and security agencies picked up them up on suspicion of having links with terrorist organisations. Most of the missing persons hail from Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas.
Last week, during hearing of a case pertaining to the law and order situation in Balochistan with focus on the issue of missing persons, the federal government informed the Supreme Court that no person reported to have gone missing was in the custody or under detention of any law-enforcement authority or any other agency.
Speaking at a news conference in June in Quetta, Justice (retd) Iqbal, who heads the Abbottabad commission investigating the US operation in which Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed, had reportedly held foreign intelligence agencies responsible for the deteriorating situation in Balochistan, claiming that there was concrete evidence against them.
He had also expressed regrets that the authorities had not been able to compile the details of those enlisted as missing persons, and said there was “baseless propaganda” about the actual number of missing persons in the country.
The all-party Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS), headed by PPP’s Raza Rabbani, has also taken up the lingering issue of the enforced disappearance of hundreds of people and its members are preparing their recommendations.
On the other hand, at the end of their 10-day official visit to Pakistan last month, members of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances welcomed “the declared will of the Pakistan government to tackle the issue of enforced disappearances”, but noted that “serious challenges remain”.
“There is acknowledgement that enforced disappearances have occurred and still occur in the country. We note that cases continue to be reported to the national authorities. But there are controversies both on the figures and on the nature of the practice of enforced disappearances,” they said at a news conference.
The UN experts welcomed the role played by the judiciary to shed light on the phenomenon of enforced disappearances and to trace missing persons.