WITH the missing persons issue refusing to go away, it is encouraging that pressure from sections of the otherwise slow-moving justice system is helping to answer some questions. At a hearing on Thursday regarding the whereabouts of some 300 people, the Peshawar High Court was told that around 100 detainees had recently been shifted to notified internment centres. Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik told the court that the cases of 95 other detainees were in the process of being verified. The authorities were spurred into action when, at an earlier hearing, the court had taken exception to what it saw as the slow pace of deciding the fate of detainees. In this regard, according to provincial home secretary Azam Khan, 35 detainees had been declared “white” by the law-enforcement agencies and set free.

The judicial system must press on with its efforts to locate people thought to be detained by various arms of the security apparatus. It is not just a question of illegal custody, at least in terms of some of the missing. As the experience of the 35 “white” detainees shows, in areas where conflict is under way there is a grave risk of innocent bystanders — people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time — ending up in detention. A sluggish process of coordination among the relevant branches of the law and of verification of the detainees’ identities means that several people unnecessarily spend time in custody — which, in turn, exacerbates the missing persons’ issue. If, therefore, insistent inquiry by the courts can provoke action — which the PHC has demonstrated it can — then that is a tool the law must employ. The challenge in the north is delineating between militants and ordinary citizens; prompt application of due process can go a long way in this regard.

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