ISLAMABAD, Dec 6: While Defence Minister Khawaja Asif tried on Friday to live up to his promise of giving ‘good news’ relating to missing persons, he did not succeed in meeting the requirement set by the Supreme Court. Instead of producing the missing persons as the apex court had ordered, he provided some information which was considered to be incomplete.
Khawaja Asif, who had assured the court on Thursday that he would meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and come up with ‘good news’, received a set of orders which he has to implement.
Not satisfied with the information provided by the minister, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry which had taken up a case relating to a missing man named Yasin Shah ordered the government to produce 14 of the 30 detainees before Justice Amir Hani Muslim, a member of the bench, at 10.30am on Saturday. Attorney General Muneer A. Malik is required to ascertain the status of the persons.
Khawaja Asif did not disclose the names but said that seven of them were living a free life and could be produced whenever the court so desired. Two are internees and information about five others are unsubstantiated but may be confirmed in a day or two.
These persons have to be produced before Justice Muslim at an appropriate place within the precincts of the Supreme Court for which the SC registrar will make arrangements in consultation with the judge.
In order to ensure that correct persons are produced, the apex court obligated the authorities to ensure the presence of one or two relatives of these persons who could identify them and, if needed, Justice Muslim and the attorney general may ask questions to ascertain facts and their status.
Internment Centre Malakand Superintendent Attaullah is also required to come along with relevant records to identify the missing persons.
The court ignored a request to involve the interior ministry to assist the defence ministry in the matter.
“In view of the material which has been placed before the court and recorded in the orders of Nov 25 and 26, prima facie, it is believed that the statement made by Mr Attaullah is correct as the same has not be contradicted by any of the officers in the internment centre,” said the order dictated by the chief justice.
In his statement Mr Attaullah said that 66 undeclared internees, including Yasin Shah, had been handed over to him in September 2011 by the army authorities without any internment order. Thirty-one of them were later declared internees and the remaining 35, including Yasin Shah, were shifted out of the Malakand centre by the army authorities.
The court also ordered that relatives of Sardar Ali and Nadir Khan who had died on Dec 29 last year and July 1 this year, respectively, in the Lakki Marwat internment centre inside the Malakand garrison be produced before Justice Muslim to confirm if they had agreed to receive the bodies without autopsy.
Of the remaining 18 persons, three are reported to be in South and North Waziristan and eight went to Kunar province in Afghanistan to join militants after their release. Seven others, whose whereabouts are still unknown, would have to be produced before the court on Dec 9, the order said.
Yasin Shah is in the unknown category.
The court also went through a confidential report submitted by Acting Defence Secretary retired Maj Gen Raja Arif Nazir but ordered that it be resealed and kept in safe custody of the court registrar.
The defence minister again insisted that none of these missing persons was in the custody of the armed forces.
But the chief justice said no-one on earth would believe that some had gone to Waziristan and some to as far as Kunar. “It means you (army) have taken them and then released them,” he said and asked the minister to divulge the reasons of their release.
The acting defence secretary tried to explain that the whereabouts of the persons in Kunar and Waziristan had been ascertained through intelligence but the information was still not certain.
“We may not accept your statement in view of the overwhelming evidence,” the chief justice said and ordered that they must be brought.
When the chief justice said that the armed forces had so many resources and could bring any person from anywhere, the acting secretary tried to explain that had the armed forces have so many resources they would have brought Mullah Fazlullah, commonly known as Mulla Radio, from Afghanistan.
The chief justice cautioned that the house must be put in order because whenever peace returned to the country the issue of missing persons would haunt them and all of them would be in trouble like Augusto Pinochet, the dictator of Chile who was tried for human rights excesses 20 years after his arrest.
When the court insisted that the missing persons should be brought to open court within the media glare, the attorney general said that if they were spotlighted there was a risk that they might be attacked.
“They may be an asset and their identity may jeopardise their lives,” Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, a member of the bench, said.