AN all-too-familiar and sinister pattern is beginning to repeat itself in Sindh. The past few weeks have seen increasing agitation against enforced disappearances of political activists in the province.

On Thursday, Punhal Sario, the leader of the recently formed Voice for Missing Persons of Sindh, was also picked up from Hyderabad by — according to an eyewitness — around a dozen men in police commando uniforms.

Then on Saturday, some family members of the self-exiled separatist leader of the banned Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz, Shafi Burfat, were whisked away from their residence.

A number of demonstrations by civil society groups were taken out on Sunday from various cities in the province, such as Sukkur, Jacobabad, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Umerkot and Mithi to protest the rising incidence of forced disappearances, among them those of rights activists, journalists, writers etc, allegedly at the hands of intelligence personnel.

Even a single case of enforced disappearance is one too many, but when those protesting the abductions, and the family members of the missing, are themselves disappeared, it is an even more ominous development.

It speaks of an increasingly authoritarian state accountable to no one but itself and willing to go to any lengths to crush all dissent. Balochistan has long been a theatre for abductions by state-affiliated elements.

While the security situation in the province makes verification of such cases extremely difficult, it can be said with some certainty that enforced disappearance has been used as a tool of state repression to counter nationalist sentiment in the area.

More recently, the war against terrorism has provided a pretext for carrying out enforced disappearances in the rest of the country as well, with the highest incidence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It is a measure of the impunity with which the state operates that it continues on this course despite a Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances having been set up by the government on the orders of the Supreme Court.

The result, far from containing unrest, has only created bitterness among those who have been affected and is a boon to separatist propaganda.

Inexplicably enough, there exists legislation — some recently enacted — that enables law enforcement to arrest, investigate and prosecute those suspected of being engaged in seditious acts.

Why then do such self-destructive tactics remain in practice? Is the state blinded by its own power?

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2017

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