Pakistani family fear for ‘disappeared’ anti-drone activist

Published February 11, 2014
Pakistani children stand on a balcony at the house of anti-drone campaigner Kareem Khan in Rawalpindi on February 11, 2014. – AFP
Pakistani children stand on a balcony at the house of anti-drone campaigner Kareem Khan in Rawalpindi on February 11, 2014. – AFP

ISLAMABAD: The family of an allegedly kidnapped Pakistani anti-drone campaigner spoke Tuesday of their fears for his safety, as his lawyer accused the government of wanting to make an example of him.

Kareem Khan was picked up by the security forces from his home in the outskirts of Islamabad on February 5, according to his legal team, just days before he was due to testify before European parliamentarians.

The freelance journalist was also fighting a legal case in which he had named both the CIA's former station chief and the government of Pakistan for their roles in the US drone programme in the country's tribal areas.

Khan's brother and teenage son were killed in a drone attack in their native North Waziristan district in December 2009.

Dilbar Jan, Khan's brother-in-law who lodged a police report over his disappearance, said the family was very worried about what would happen to him.

“The kids, my sister, my uncle and I are all very worried and anxious,” he told AFP at Khan's lawyer's office, accompanied by his young nephews who witnessed the kidnapping.

“We haven't done anything that is anti-state, nor do any of us have bad intentions towards anyone.”

“We're from an educated family, we're all government employees, I myself am a teacher. We can't think of doing something wrong.”

A court has asked police to produce Khan, who is in his fifties, on Wednesday. His lawyer Shahzad Akbar said he was pinning his hopes on public pressure to force the government to release him.

“This is a completely illegal disappearance, which means some kind of pressure is being applied through his disappearance to the other drone victims,” Akbar said.

“Normally if someone is picked up they are held a few days and they come back, so every passing moment makes it less likely,” he said.

Controversial campaign

Officially, Pakistan condemns the CIA's drone campaign targeting Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the country's tribal areas as counterproductive and a violation of sovereignty.

But according to numerous leaked documents it has in the past privately condoned their use, and observers believe the case brought by Khan could embarrass the government.

According to an AFP tally, 2,155 people have been killed in drone attacks since August 2008, with critics charging that the strikes cause many civilian casualties.

US officials defend the drone campaign as legally sound and an important weapon in the fight against extremism.

Khan's 18-year-old-son and brother were killed when a drone missile struck a gathering in North Waziristan on December 31 2009.

His son was a security guard at a school while his brother was an English teacher.

Missing people

Rights group Amnesty International later issued a statement demanding the government determine Khan's whereabouts.

“The disappearance of Kareem Khan highlights the disturbing trend of targeting those who dare to speak publicly about human rights abuses in Pakistan, and raises serious concerns about the country's possible continued complicity in the US drone programme,” said Isabelle Arradon, the group's Asia-Pacific director.

The statement said Khan's disappearance was in line with other cases of activists and terror suspects being subjected to enforced disappearances, and called on both Pakistan and the US to ensure victims of drone attacks get justice.

Pakistan last month passed a new law allowing its security forces to detain terror suspects for up to 90 days without disclosing their whereabouts or the allegations against them.

The law appeared to be an attempt to give legal cover to the cases of so-called “missing persons,” suspects who disappear into custody of the security services with no information given to their relatives.

A campaign group formed by the relatives of the missing persons says as many as 2,000 people have disappeared from across the country, many from the restive southwestern province of Balochistan.

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